Wine Festivals – Marketing Goldmine, Necessary Evil or Simple Drunkfest?

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Anyone that has been paying attention over the last twenty years has witnessed the growth of the wine festival.  The bulk of this post will focus on Virginia wine festivals but I have seen similar patterns in other states as well.  As a disclaimer, I have created festivals, worked with festival promoters, been a festival attendee and been an exhibiting winery.

One truth at the outset — All festivals are not created equal.

Back in the Industry’s early days, wine festivals were the hot spot to find the new wine meet the wine makers and hear good music (all of this is still true).  In addition these festivals were hugely profitable for the wineries because people would come and buy cases of Virginia wine that were not available at their local stores.

Then three major changes occurred:

  • Others saw the festivals were successful and fun and more festivals popped up
  • Virginia wineries started selling in the neighborhood wine shops
  • A bunch more Virginia wineries (now over 200) came on the scene

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Does this mean festivals are no longer a good idea for consumers or wineries — absolutely not but how both consumers and wineries approach festivals should change.  In addition smart festival promoters are differentiating their festivals with additional programming, unique locations, and special top-notch entertainment and promotion.

First, consumers should change their methodology at a festival.  Rather than heading toward either the first tent or your favorite, I encourage festival goers to “start in the back and work forward”.  Seek out those wineries you don’t know before you head back to your well known favorites.  Secondarily, eat — trust me you need to eat.  After over a decade in the wine business, I can tell you the sun and the wine will catch up with you.  Finally and most importantly buy.  The wineries have come to the festival to sell you wine.  Don’t ask where you can buy it — look at the cases stacked behind the taster — you can buy the wine here!

The wineries need to be more selective about their pours.  Knowing you are headed to a festival where a number of wineries will be pouring do you think it is wise to bring all 14 of your wines?  An interesting study mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink tested consumers provided four options of jelly to taste versus 12 options of jellies to taste — which portfolio sold more?  The one with only 4 choices.  Take a good look at your wine inventory and determine which wines you can afford to pour and sell at festival.  In addition, after two years of festival going, wineries should take a good hard look at their festival profitability, not all festivals make money but those that cost a bunch should be considered for discontinuation.

Finally, the promoters must recognize two important realities first the people come to the festival for the wine so be really nice to the wineries and make it easy for them.  Secondarily, that the days of throwing a wine party in the field and having any crowd come are long gone.  You need to have a hook, a solid marketing plan (including social media), as well as hope for good weather.

Festivals are an important part of the Virginia wine business.  In addition to being a solid sales/marketing opportunity it also draws the industry together in a unique way.  You will never forget who was near you when the Tornado Warning came down from the hill or what wineries made it to the convention room floor despite over a foot of snow.

Above all else, all involved in wine festivals need to have a can do attitude and recognize that whether the event is like a Super Bowl winning team or the voyage of the Titanic, we are all in this together.

The answer to the question in the post headline is “Yes!”

Respectfully Submitted,

GMG

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