Chris Tyrrell, fifth generation winemaker with the family-owned Tyrrell’s Wines in Australia, once told me the key to selling wine is to make sure that wines are “seriously in danger of being tasted”. He meant that people remember – and ultimately buy – wine they have tried and liked.
Apart from plonk in bulk containers, wine is a luxury product. So people who sell wine need to find ways to present wine in its best environment.
This introduces the key question of wine marketing. How is wine presented around the world? What are the key methods that wine marketers use to make people aware of their product, and hopefully remember that wine when in a bottle shop or restaurant?
For the past several years I’ve been to wine events in at least 20 countries where marketers aim to make consumers aware of wine. Sadly, the scenario is uniformly familiar and boring: Marketers stand behind booths, often in large halls with thousands of other products, where they try to entice punters to taste the wine. In a big hall it is easy for most wines to be forgotten, especially given the uniformity of approach of most wine sellers.
An event in Brighton this week reminded me how old-fashioned wine marketing can be. The Hotel du Vin, a chain of wine bars, advertised a wine tasting. They used the traditional English approach of offering consumers what could appear to be a bargain: One ticket for £20 or two tickets for £30. Scores of couples arrived.
What did we get for this price? A free tasting glass in a crowded room where it was impossible to have a conversation with anyone, because of the appalling acoustics and limited space. The room was so small that perhaps thee people could stand by any wine booth. This meant it was impossible to hear what the wine marketer had to say, and difficult to get access to wine because one person was pouring for all arrivals.
Typically each booth had one person on duty. That person had to pour the wine, conduct a conversation with all arrivals – who had a wide range of knowledge and experience of wine – and also cope with opening bottles, providing spittoons, handing out literature, locating clean glasses, finding ice to chill the white and sparkling wines, and generally coping with a broad range of tastes and questions. All in a room where the acoustics were so poor that the room sounded like a hornet’s nest disturbed by a group of small boys with sticks standing by a freeway/motorway.
It was a waste of time and energy. The organisers wanted as many people in the room as possible. To their minds, that offered evidence the event was a success. But any consumer wanting to taste wine was frustrated because the room was too crowded and not enough staff were on duty. Consumers wanted information but that was also impossible because of the shortage of someone to talk to. The high noise levels made it difficult to ask questions.
In all, it was a classic example of what not to do. Perhaps some people had an opportunity to taste interesting wine. But they had no chance to learn anything useful because of the noise.
One exception was the stand from the Bolney Estate of sparkling wine producers, about 15 kilometres north of Brighton in England. It had good documentation and fine wine. But their single representative was soon overwhelmed with people.
The organisers are happy because they sold lots of tickets. But what about the consumers? They got nothing apart from a free glass and a potential headache from the noise.
It is time for wine marketers to introduce innovations – to find new ways to offer consumers a chance to appreciate wine. Surely it is much better to focus on small groups who can sit in comfortable chairs and have a conversation with a winemaker or wine marketer. People cherish that sense of closeness with the people associated with making wine.
Why not play soothing music. And provide large posters with information about the wine. And use technology to let consumers download information about the wine to their smartphones. And show videos of the beauty of the vineyard. And encourage people to use social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to talk about wine they like. The opportunities are only limited by the imagination of the people who sell the wine.
In these ways the consumer could be seriously in danger of remembering the wine they taste.