As my friend Chris Howell of Cain Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley likes to say, wine is all about stories. Skillful storytelling can create an emotional bond that sets one brand apart from another. It’s a concept that applies to all successful marketing. Make the customer believe their life will be better if they participate in your story.
Consider how automaker GM developed tiered branding to target customers. First-time single buyer? How about this snappy Corvette? Family man with another bundle of joy on the way? Slick woody wagon. Soccer mom? Way cool van. Contractor? Heavy-duty pickup. Poseur? Massively blinged-out SUV.
Wine’s the same. The bigger you are in this business, the more stories you need to maintain mega status. Case in point, The Wine Group, which seems to invent new brands weekly—some even work well enough to survive, like Cupcake.
Scheid Family Wines of Salinas, Calif., is having great success with standalone brands. It’s developed District 7, Ranch 32, and Ryder Estate to cover the $10.99-$19.99 price point in outlets such as Safeway and BevMo. Metz Road Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fill the sub-$34 spot. A Petite Sirah named Stoke’s Ghost ($34) is a nod to the phony 19th century British sailor-turned-“physician,” who deserted in Monterey with the ship doctor’s bag: he was known to kill people. VDR (Very Dark Red, $24.99) combines velvet Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot in a moonless midnight libation that just won Best Blend Red at the Monterey International Wine Competition. Finished goods for others, like Hive and Honey, a sweet Riesling ($7.99) developed for Kroeger, help Scheid maintain better control of its destiny.
Venerable Handley Cellars, in California’s Anderson Valley, is on the verge of brand diversification for the first time in its more than 30 years. Winemaker Randy Schoch wants to push the pricepoints of the estate Handley brand higher, while maximizing newly acquired vineyard assets. He’s about to put a crisp, amphorae-fermented Chardonnay into cans for a distributor, and is contemplating a line of Italian varietals from head-trained treasures in the Redwood Valley. “We want to continue our Alsatian white and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir focus with the Handley brand, but we have great old vine Zin and Petite Sirah that fit a different price model, ” says Schoch, adding that he might spin off a separate line of Pinot from Mendocino County in the $20 range.
Perhaps the most devilishly clever example of engaging storytelling are the labels of Treasury Wine Estate’s 19 Crimes wines, which tell a story—literally—using augmented reality. Yep, there’s an app for that. It’s called Living Wine Labels.
To maximize the technology, TWE just introduced Walking Dead, an ode to the eternal popularity of comic books, and will soon add new “living labels” for Gentleman’s Collection, Beringer Brothers (wine aged in bourbon barrels—you know you needed that), and Chateau St. Jean, where winemaker Margo Van Staaveren will bring the magic of harvest to life.
What’s your story?