Why I am Sweet on Your Wine Portfolio

By. Neil Williamson, The Grumpy Marketing Guy

Imagine walking into a home improvement store and all of the hardware and tools were only available in metric sizes.  In this example it is clear the home supply store is ignoring a significant potential market that demands US/Imperial tools.  Now look at your wine portfolio, does it reflect consumer demand or the owner’s personal preferences.

Often when I am meeting with new winery owners they have a limited scope of their wine portfolio.  In every case, I ask, beg, cajole them to include at least one “sweet” wine.    Interestingly, when clients take this advice, it almost always becomes their best seller.   Why?  As your winery will likely offer a number of dry wines for the roughly 50% of the wine drinking public that prefers a dry wine and you force the sweet wine drinker to choose the one wine you have made for that population cohort.

Recently my vision on this was tested by my philosophical position regarding be true to your identity. I was chatting up a Virginia winery owner about his vision for his new wine portfolio.  He did not like sweet wines but recognized the consumer demand for such product, his decision was not to make a wine that he would not drink but to make it at the far edge of his sweetness tolerance.  The resulting 1% residual sugar wine is consistent with his winery vision (and palate) while providing a sweeter wine for that percentage  of the wine consuming public that only buys sweet wines.

Master of Wine Tim Hanni (who spoke at a number of Virginia Wineries Association seminars this year) has written a treatise on Why Wineries Owe Sweet Wine Drinkers and Apology.  Hanni draws on recent research indicating that people are genetically predisposed to prefer sweeter wines based on the arrangement of their taste buds on their tongue.

In the end your wine portfolio should represent not only who you are but also who your customers are; if you only make wine you like, you may ignore significant potential consumers and sales!

That’s why I am sweet on your wine portfolio!

Respectfully Submitted,


Photo Credit: Kobalt-USA


What’s Your Story?

By Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

In considering developing, creating or honing your winery’s brand position, I encourage clients to take a long look in the mirror.  What makes your wine different than ALL the other wine that is out in the market?  Newly minted marketing guys (and gals) like to discuss your USP, Unique Selling Proposition.  Back in 2009, An Economist magazine article defined the USP in this way:

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a description of the qualities that are unique to a particular product or service and that differentiate it in a way which will make customers purchase it rather than its rivals.

Rather than using the USP verbiage, I find that a more in New York style question of “What’s Your Story?” generally drives the brand awareness conversation.  Everyone has a story to tell and told properly these stories can help to sell your wine.  Stories/ideas that have worked include tying to the real or imagined vineyard location (Pine Ridge, Silver Ridge, Pillar Bluff), linking in with celebrity ownership (Coppola Estate, Newman’s Own, Andretti Winery), or elevating a winery/vineyard process (Toasted Head, Barrel Oak, Twisted Vines).

One “encore career” client demonstrated the ability to not only identify his USP but to wrap his brand around it.  Jim Turpin of Democracy Vineyards is a self described “recovering lobbyist”.  His back story of politics in both the Virginia State Capital and the Nation’s Capital made for the selection of the winery name somewhat a no brainer but he and DV owner Susan Prokop took the concept even further.

Turpin wears bright red white and blue outfits to festivals and other winery owners have taken to calling him Captain America.  Each of Democracy’s custom crush wines have  names that evoke the concept of Democracy.  There portfolio currently includes Velvet Revolution, Declaration, Emancipation, Sufferage, Unum, Parliment and Alabaster.

Another wine brand I use in these discussions is South African Winery Mulderbosch “Faithful Hound” brand.  In addition to being a fantastic red blend year after year.  I have witness folks break into tears when reading the story printed on the label, that tells the tale of the dog, whose owner moved but returned every evening to sit on the porch and wait for his return, the dog died with his love unrequited.  This is a wine with a story.

Another way to look at the nurturing of a brand is understanding how you, or the winery owner, or the grower or the winemaker are the face of the winery.  People want to know people.  They love getting inside scoop on the upcoming vintages or harvest so they can impress their friends with their understanding of the business.   The best person to be your “face” may not be the owner.  But a word of caution, if you invest significant brand equity in an employee or partner, recognize this as a strategic decision and think how you will respond when they move on.

Above all else be true to who you are in your brand positioning.  If you can’t stand dogs, don’t put a dog on your label.  Just like fear, consumers smell phony from a mile away.  In addition, if you don’t believe it why should anyone else.

Here’s your homework, sit down with a pad of paper and write down ten things about you that make you unique and think of how you might integrate these into your brand positioning.  It may not be a label concept at all.  One client was an avid Ford F-150 driver.  That’s all he owned his entire life a series of these Ford Trucks.  Rather than put that into the label concept we simply added a new title to his signature Winemaker & F-150 Driver.

You have to be genuine, interesting and unique.  It’s all that easy and it’s all that hard.

Respectfully Submitted,


photo credits: Andretti Winery, Neon Cactus Wines