Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Few Suggestions for Wine PR & Marketing Pros

Hello wine sales and public relations professionals!

As a group, you are very cordial, helpful and responsive people. You’re very knowledgeable of your portfolios, and just as good at conveying that knowledge to others in the wine industry and the general wine-consuming public. 

Your job isn’t easy: trying to convince people such as myself that a single bottle among the throng of options is delicious, unique and worthy of contemplation. And it’s hard convincing Random Joe McWineConsumer to shell out money for said bottle.

I wouldn’t claim to know how to do your job. I’ve sold wine before, but I’m much better at consuming it. You know your clients, your audience and your sales targets.

But as someone who attends lots of trade tastings, visits a lot of wineries, chats with a lot of wine sales folks, and receives wine samples and promotional materials on a regular basis — I’ve come across a few oddities. A few misused tools. Just like making a fine wine, the little details go a long way.

Here are a few thoughts offered up for general consideration.

Be more efficient when shipping wine

Last year I received a large two-bottle box with double-thick Styrofoam. Inside was one bottle of wine. The next week, I received another over-sized box with one bottle — from the same damn winery! This waste of money, resources and energy makes absolutely no sense to me. Why wouldn’t you ship your wines together, in one box, as opposed to a bottle-by-bottle piecemeal approach? I’m more than likely not going to taste the first wine before receiving the second wine anyway, so why not ship all current releases at once?

Speaking of Styrofoam: It’s terrible. It takes up way too much space, it breaks down into crumbly pieces that cause litter and (worst of all) it goes straight to the landfill. I’m receiving more and more wines padded with recyclable cardboard, which is an excellent trend. I’m not sure of the cost differential, but I’d love to see more and more recyclable shipping containers.

Wasted space and a warm "cold" pack? This makes no damn sense to me.
Don’t ship wine in the summer heat

Why, oh, why do wineries and marketers ship wine during the sweltering heat? I review a lot of wines for the daily blog Terroirist, and on the site we explicitly tell people not to send wine during the dog days of summer. But some insist on wasting time, money, resources and energy to ship wines in the middle of the brutal Mid-Atlantic heat and humidity.

I’ve received way too many leaky bottles of cooked wine. These bottles of wine come from all over the country and they end up going straight down the drain. As a wine-lover, it’s frustrating to think about how much time, money and energy went into making that wine, only to have it cooked and destroyed in transit.

Some shippers think they have found a solution to heat damage: including a frozen cold pack with the wine. I’m not sure what nonsense these companies are telling you, but cold packs are worse than useless. I’ve received lots of packages stuffed with cold packs and every single one of them, without exception, was hot upon delivery. When I’m traveling across the city for a summer wine tasting, I use a cold pack in my wine tote. But this process doesn’t work when shipping wine across the country. The only thing a cold pack does is add to the shipping costs and waste. Please just wait until the heat drops to ensure the wine arrives in good condition.

Tell me about the vintage

In press materials, I appreciate honesty when describing the vintage. Not every vintage is “great.” But very good (even great) wine can be made in difficult vintages. And, of course, whether certain vintage conditions translate into a “great” wine is subjective. (I frequently love wines from cooler, rainier vintages where the grapes struggled to ripen.)

Hail happens. Heat waves happen (more and more frequently). Here on the East Coast, tropical storm remnants can dump tons of rain on vineyards at the worst possible time. But these challenges give a wine its character. They’re what make vertical tastings so much fun for us wine nerds. It sucks to see pictures of hail or storm damage, but when studious vineyard work and attentive winemaking turn a difficult vintage into a delicious and unique wine, this is a cause for celebration.

When were the grapes harvested? How does this line up with the prior vintage or the trend of recent vintages? How much rainfall did the vineyard see and where does that number fall on a spectrum? What steps are the vineyard crew taking to deal with drought, climate change, etc.? These are the types of things I want to hear about the vintage. Piling adjectives and superlatives on top of each other doesn’t help anyone understand the nature of a particular vintage.

This is quite possibly the best opening line of a wine PR letter I've ever received. Quoting insanely talented guitarists is always a good idea. 

Tone down the food pairing talk 

Way too much ink is spilled on wine labels offering up lame suggestions for food pairing. I have often quipped with casual wine-consuming friends that a wine with the word “pasta” on the back label should be avoided. The crummier the wine, it seems, the more exhaustive the list of foods to pair with said wine.  

Lots of press materials and tech sheets contain too many food pairing suggestions. But for the love of Bacchus, please stop saying a wine pairs well with “ethnic food.” Seriously, what the fuck is “ethnic food” anyway? Anything with flavor? Anything that doesn’t come in single-serving plastic containers? And don’t tell me your wine pairs well with chicken dishes, either. A wine could pair well with pretty much any food if you describe that food in the vaguest way possible.

I find it interesting when wine PR materials include a suggested recipe to accompany the wine. This shows some forethought, and at least suggests the person who wrote down the recipe has tried it with the wine in question. I’ve actually tried quite a few of these recipes, and even added some of my favorites to my personal collection.

But when it comes to suggesting food pairings, can we keep it simple? I want to know one thing and one thing only: What does the winemaker eat with this wine? I don’t want to know about some hypothetical pairing that exists only on paper, and I don’t need a chart with cutesy pictures of shrimp and turkey legs. I want to know what the winemaker actually consumes when he/she sits down and pours a glass of this particular wine.

During tastings, many times the winemaker will say something like: “Oh, man, I just had the 2011 with a lemon-rosemary grilled chicken, and the herbal components in both the wine and food really started to sing together.” Or: “This new vintage needs a few years to come around, but a friend and I just tasted the 2005, which is really silky right now and it was beautiful with some slow-cooked lamb shoulder. But if you’re drinking the current vintage now, a peppered T-bone is the way to go.”

This is golden information that only the winemaker possesses. Why not share it with the rest of us?

Well, that's all I have. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for being awesome. 

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