Undoubtedly, an ancient scroll that holds key insights into the mysteries of the world lies next to the mythical Fountain of Youth. This scroll bears witness to the elusive nature of truth: it brings order to chaos, provides reason where none exists and distills the unknowable into enlightenment. Perhaps there is even an aphorism on how to execute wine marketing.
Until this scroll is found however we’re left with less wine marketing enlightenment and more perpetual experiment; less empirical truth and more beautiful chaos.
In many ways, my orderly mind wishes there was a field guide—something that brings a neat classification system to the scrum that is the U.S. wine marketplace. But, alas, it’s not Tide detergent we’re talking about, definable to key messaging points and a value proposition, it is wine. And, the French screwed up that classification system a 150 years ago anyways …
I’ve talked with two wine marketers over the last week and both are taking very interesting paths to market, going about it 180 degrees differently than the other. One is executing a strategy of an “inch wide and a mile deep” while the other is going “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Together they present an interesting study of contrasts.
In the “inch wide mile deep” category is Stormhoek, a South African brand led by Jason Korman. Many in the online wine world are familiar with Stormhoek from their “Geek Dinners” blog promotion in 2006 as well as the marketing efforts of Hugh Macleod from gapingvoid.com. In a previous incarnation of Stormhoek their marketing efforts led the brand to a reported sales volume of 200,000 cases in the U.K. before business reorganization occurred last year.
With more mindshare than sales in the U.S. to begin with, the brand has retrenched and moved on from their importing relationship with Palm Bay International, a relationship that could have given them distribution virtually everywhere were it not for the fact that to do so would have required a gargantuan effort in pull marketing.
Instead, Stormhoek is forging a new path – a path that builds off of the realities of the market where pull marketing is costly and labor intensive, but push marketing affords small victories.
According to Korman, “What do you do when you’re from the wrong side of the railroad tracks (not a California wine trying to develop in the U.S.)? You’re a winery from a small town at the bottom of the world where nobody, practically speaking, is going to visit?”
If you’re a South African brand like Stormhoek, penetrating the U.S., you go local, really local.
“Everybody wants to be everywhere and you end up nowhere,” noted Korman.
In conjunction with the marketing efforts of Hugh Macleod from his home base of Alpine, Texas a dusty town with a population of 6,000, a six hour drive from the San Antonio, the nearest metropolitan city, Hugh and the brand are working on a mico-level and helping West Texas residents revel in their remote desolation.
With the slogan, “Dream Big,” a notion that plays into the sense of frontier spirit that is simpatico with Texans, Stormhoek is slowly, but surely developing a beach head that will lead Stormhoek into becoming the best-selling South African wine in Alpine, Texas, before working on expansion in other areas of West Texas including the Mexican border town of Terlingua.
This is guerilla marketing at its finest, and a hand sell in its dearest form. Check out the web site for Harry’s bar, the first place in Alpine to carry Stormhoek, and you’ll see what I mean.
According to Korman, the Chamber of Commerce is even considering naming Stormhoek the official wine of Alpine, Texas.
Bumper stickers and Twitter organized West Texas meet-up’s round out some of the efforts.
While many will tut-tut the effort, the reality remains – if a South African wine can win over consumers in West Texas and build momentum in one the most remote areas of our country, before moving east to the more cosmopolitan areas of the state, is there anywhere that this wine brand cannot go and be successful, one town at a time?
Persimmon Creek Vineyards
In contrast to Stormhoek is Mary Ann Hardman from Persimmon Creek Vineyards, going after a “mile wide, an inch deep” philosophy.
What do you do to gain mindshare for your winery, with quality and sustainability at its heart, when you’re located 12 miles outside of Clayton, Georgia a small town of 2000 people; a remote geographical area that was the setting for the backwoods movie Deliverance?
If you’re Mary Ann, you don’t take “no” for an answer, you tackle everyday with a geniality that belies a confident fierceness and you fight for respectability that bucks convention.
As Hardman noted, “I’ve had to use elephant skin lotion …”
And it helps that Hardman is a former Kindergarten teacher, able to coax direction out of the seemingly unruly.
Producing just 2000 cases of four varietals, plus a desert wine, sales aren’t hard to come by for Persimmon Creek, but that’s hardly the point for Hardman.
With good wines and genuine charm to spare, Hardman has seen her wines placed at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, Little Nell in Aspen, CO and Quince in San Francisco, amongst others.
Hardman has achieved this through dint of hard work and a proactive effort to tell her story.
More important to Hardman than selling a case of wine for the sake of selling a case of wine is to act as a representative for expanding the notion of where good wine can come from, be it Georgia, Virginia or anyplace where the wine world typically looks down its nose. It’s this busting of preconceptions where she excels; sales come as a collateral benefit.
With a very personal touch on all communication that leaves the winery, handwritten notes are works of art from Hardman. Talking with her is a tour de force. A question begets a 15 minute monologue that is parts education, insight, and reflection, both hopeful and credulous.
I could listen to Hardman read a menu and it would be interesting if spoken in her beguiling southern lilt, an accent she acknowledges sometimes works against her, noting, “Sometimes it’s like having the bubonic plague.”
Taking an inspirational nod from Thomas Jefferson who would drink a French claret while extolling the virtues of Catawba, a native vitis labrusca grape, or Ted Turner who built the cable news empire CNN when others told him it couldn’t be done, or even Pliny the Elder, Hardman casually drops names like Hugh Johnson, Karen MacNeil, Dan Berger, Doug Frost and others, all of whom she has communicated with, while seeking the best day to day counsel she can from the likes of Randy Caparoso and Marco Capelli.
It is her effort at creating a mind-bending expansion, of working an inch deep, but a mile wide that has allowed her to continue to grow the profile of her business and the notion of where good wine can come from.
Stormhoek and Persimmon Creek Vineyard represent contrasting styles in telling their story, both authentic in their own way, and both acknowledge that quality in the bottle isn’t enough – it’s the personal touch, the effort and the desire to do something different that makes their contrasts more like similarities.
Ultimately, I’m not sure what that scroll next to the Fountain of Youth will say about wine marketing, but likely, in some form, it will tell all wine marketers to, “Dream Big.”