Successfully Selling Wine Nobody Wants or Knows About


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Wine industry advisor in touch with regional chefs, brands and marketing masterminds discussing how to revive a waning reputation or create one from scratch.

—Kathleen Willcox

The United States has been the largest wine-consuming market on the planet since 2013, but for a decade volume growth has been virtually non-existent, thanks to the boom in the spirits, hard seltzer and ready-to-drink cocktails sectors . .

Wine sales are down 0.5% for 2021, continuing a depreciating trend, according to Shanken Impact Databaseforecasts of. Between 2000 and 2010, the market grew by 3%, but between 2010 and 2020, that modest growth fell to 1%, reports Shanken.

Despite this, there are incredible pockets of hope and growth that the entire industry can learn from. Some regions have seen meteoric sales gains in the US, while struggling with a variety of challenges, ranging from zero name recognition to falling fashion or suffering from a reputation for less than stellar quality.

Make Bordeaux younger, more progressive

Everyone knows that Bordeaux can make great wine. But until very recently, Bordeaux was more associated with Grands Crus and jet-set billionaires and royals than with environmentally conscious producers and urban Millennials.

Meet the new generation of Bordeaux / Courtesy Bordeaux Wine Council
Meet the new generation of Bordeaux / Courtesy Bordeaux Wine Council

“We have a long history of selling wine in the US market, and that reputation has a lot of benefits, including our reputation for quality,” says Patrycja Matyskiewicz, head of marketing strategy for Bordeaux in the US and China. . “But we had to correct the misconception of younger generations that Bordeaux was their grandparents’ wine and offered nothing exciting to them.”

When the Bordeaux Wine Council Realizing that there was a disconnect between reality and perception, they launched an educational and “listening” study on social media to determine what this discrepancy was.

Then, just three years ago, the Council responded with a campaign to “democratize the perception of Bordeaux”. “Through social media, events and virtual seminars, we shared the story of Bordeaux’s strong female winemakers, new approaches to winemaking, wide price range and progressive environmental and social values ​​of our winemakers” , explains Matyskiewicz.

Gone is the emphasis on appellations, technique and production methods, make way for the narration.

Sales followed. In 2021, Bordeaux recorded a 21% growth in sales volume in the United States, the largest year-over-year increase since 1986. This translates to 29 million bottles (or 2.43 million cases) sold, valued at $326 million.

Premiumization of Rias Baixas

Rías Baixas has long prioritized the United States as its “main export market”, says DO marketing director Eva Minguez

The region joins forces with the communications firm Gregory + Vine to build on its modest success in the United States and carve out a new niche and reputation, with an emphasis on the Albariño grape.

“Rías Baixas was already considered to offer some of the best white wines in Spain, but few people were in the market for ‘Spanish white wines,'” says Helen Gregory, founder and president of Gregory + Vine. “To position it more broadly as an excellent choice of white wine, we focused on sharing the history, viticultural heritage and tasting profile of the wines with the trade and media. Somms became our first brand champion, embracing its crisp, refreshing and highly aromatic profile. »

Peer endorsement is key, Gregory argues, especially when it comes to building a region’s image and reputation and securing placements from importers and distributors. Transforming Rías Baixas from a great Spanish white to a great white on par with whites from New Zealand, France and other regions, has helped underscore its relative value, Gregory says.

The sales figures for 2021 reflect these objectives. Sales of Albariño de Rías Baixas increased 13% in volume in the United States and 16.8% in value, meaning the region increased bottle sales – and the price paid per bottle – according to the Consejo Regulator de DO Rias Baixas.

The region hopes to capitalize on this growth, with plans to resume in-person events this year at Charleston Wine and Food Festival 2022 and the Aspen Food and Wine Classic.

Enjoy the cava

Cava, meanwhile, has been making the value-for-money argument for its bubbles for some years, said Javier Pagés, chairman of the Cava DO Regulatory Board, adding that 70% of its wine is exported to more than 100 countries.

Over the past year, the DO has capitalized on Cava’s reputation as a friendly, celebration-worthy bubbly, partnering with several top restaurants, including Yannick Benjamin’s new restaurant. Contentsfamous by José Andrés Mercado Little Spainand Francethe Brooklyn brewery recently awarded a Michelin star, and the rollout of digital marketing activations, all in support of the restaurant industry and celebrating relief after months of COVID-19 related closures.

Celebrate Cava Discovery Week
Celebrate Cava Discovery Week

There is still work to be done, however, says Pagés. While most people have heard of Cava, few understand its categories.

“We are launching an initiative to explain the different categories, so consumers can recognize and seek out high-quality markers, and understand what makes each unique,” ​​says Pagés.

Global sales of the most expensive cavas performed exceptionally well. The Guarda Superior category increased by 34.73% year over year. Shipments of Gran Reserva, another leading category, increased by 42.11%. In the United States, sales growth for the region as a whole was exceptional for an established category: 62.91%.

Restarting growth in Georgia

Georgia’s winemaking history dates back over 8,000 years, but it only really came into its own in the United States in the last decade. In 2015, Marq Wine Groupa DC-based consulting agency specializing in wine and economic growth, has launched a marketing campaign in partnership with the Georgia Department of Agriculture which launched the knowledge.

At that time, there were 60 Georgian winemakers present in the United States; now over 200 are in attendance, with over a million bottles of Georgian wine sold by the end of 2020. Sales have increased by an average of 29% over the seven years. Marq worked with Georgia

The campaign, says Julie Peterson, Marq’s managing partner, was extremely simple.

“It’s not sexy and there’s no magic formula,” she says. “We don’t throw $100,000 parties. Most of the time, we’re in the trenches, making phone calls and cementing relationships.

For a wine region to be successful, especially in the United States, Peterson believes a few key standards must be met.

“The wine has to outperform for the price,” says Peterson. “It is the work of the winemaker. But it’s our job to make sure before we introduce it. It’s also essential to build relationships, and not just by hosting events, but by checking in with key industry and media contacts before, during and after events. Finally, you need to ensure that the mechanisms for success are in place.

In other words, the “non-sexy” logistical elements: importation, distribution and sale of wine.

Connecting wine to food and culture is an important part of the success of Georgian wines in the US market.
Connecting wine to food and culture is an important part of the success of Georgian wines in the US market.

Creating a market for Armenia

Viticulture began in Armenia at least 6,100 years ago, surviving millennia of conquests, wars and economic challenges. The Soviet Union, however, prioritized brandy production over winemaking, and it was not until Armenia’s independence in 1991 that a new generation of winemakers and viticulturists decided to resuscitate the old abandoned vineyards of the past.

In September 2020 Storica Wines was launched on the market (not the most auspicious time, admits Storica Wines head of wine Ara Sarkissian), with the aim of being the first major US importer of small-scale Armenian wines. But more importantly, the brand was keen to share Armenia’s history with American wine lovers.

“We knew we couldn’t sell ‘only wine’ if we wanted to be successful,” Sarkissian explains. “We had to sell the notion of place, the history of viticulture, the 400 indigenous grape varieties, the incredible land with 120 year old vineyards up to nearly 6,000 feet in elevation.

Through consumer-focused tastings with carefully selected retailers, social media emphasizes “the story of the place and the people.” Storica went from selling 338 cases worth $66,816 from September to December in 2020, to selling 1,751 cases worth $222,000 during the same period in 2021.

It is possible to thrive in difficult conditions. These pros make it look easy. But behind every seemingly easy sale and every social media blitz is hundreds of hours of inglorious and thankless research and outreach, backed by a well-oiled import, distribution and sales logistics strategy.

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Kathleen Willcox

Kathleen Willcox writes about wine, food and culture from her home in Saratoga Springs, NY. She has a keen interest in sustainability issues and in making ethical food and beverages. His work appears regularly in wine researcher, wine lover, Liquor.com and many other publications. Kathleen has also co-authored a book titled Hudson Valley Wine: A Story of Taste and Terroirwhich was released in 2017. Follow his wine explorations on Instagram at @kathleenwillcox

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