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by Erin Kirschenmann | January 18, 2018 | 5:23 PM

1. 2017 was a year of shipping enforcement

Steve Gross, vice president of state relations for the Wine Institute, is a fixture at the Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium. In his annual State of the States address, he reviewed all the bills, new legislation and lawsuits that changed the DTC shipping landscape in 2017.

Pushed by wholesalers, state legislators are paying attention to the common carriers—FedEx and UPS—as a measure of compliance. For now, most of the attention has been focused on retailers. While wineries can ship directly into 44 states, retailers can ship into a handful.—and even some states are challenging those rules. Michigan, Arizona, Illinois and New York are leading that wave.

Cease and desist letters continue to be sent in vast numbers to retailers and wineries who aren’t following procedure, have the correct permits or do not pay adequate taxes. Gross emphasized that now is the right time to assess any and all shipping policies, and check in with third-party providers, such as fulfillment houses, who are assisting in your shipping efforts.

“Being in compliance with state rules is going to be a big part of direct shipping going forward,” he said.

2. It’s not enough to have a website—it must be optimized

In the “Home Sweet Homepage” breakout session, panelists Taylor Eason of Cork and Fork Digital Media and Martial Chaput of Newtimer Marketing led attendees through free and easy tools to use to make winery websites search engine and user friendly. Keywords, re-targeted ads and an integrated web strategy are key to an effective online DTC strategy.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the session was that a beautiful website means nothing if it doesn’t appear “above the fold” on a Google Search. Understand your customer, understand how they search for new wines, understand your winery’s top goal for its website and build the site around those three factors.

3. Branding and brand messaging must remain authentic

Whether building a brand from scratch or re-invigorating an existing company, it’s important to understand the core values on which it was founded and what the winery stands for—and acknowledge it. Nate Belden led attendees through the creation of his brand, Belden Barns, and how he maintains the family farm, old barnyard tasting feel, even when holding a dinner in New York City. Steve Tamburelli of Clos du Val Winery in Stag’s Leap spoke to the challenges and frustrations of trying to bring a decades-old brand back to its roots after drifting rather far from its original intention and business plan. Clay Gregory of Visit Napa Valley detailed the struggles of maintaining the Napa Valley Brand after two natural disasters in three years, while still remaining respectful of those who lost lives, homes and businesses. And acknowledging the 5,000-pound gorilla in the room, Claudia Vecchio discussed how the Nevada Tourism Board created a brand story and marketed the state—outside of Las Vegas.

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