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Second Annual Wine Marketing Summit Held in Walla Walla

by Jude Noland
June 13, 2007

About 70 people learned the basics of wine marketing from the experts at the Second Annual Wine Marketing Summit, held at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College in Walla Walla, Washington. Fledgling winemakers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho, along with students and professionals who work with the wine industry, participated in the summit, which was held June 11 and 12.

"Most people who get into this business don't think of the sales and marketing end," said Heidi Wells, Program Director for the Center for Enology & Viticulture. Since the center's curricula covers winemaking and viticulture, adding a program on marketing made sense, Wells said. The Enology Center received a wine marketing grant from the state of Washington to help launch the marketing summit, which was also sponsored by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance and the Washington Wine Commission.

Speakers and panels of experts discussed such topics as world wine trends, branding, working with restaurant buyers and distributors, packaging trends and traditions, and basic media relations and web site development.

"We spend so much time talking about grapes and technology and very little in groups like this," keynote speaker Andrew Browne, CEO of Precept Brands, told the group.

"The hard part is how to get the consumer to be able to feel what I feel [about my wine], articulate it to a demographic base and get repeat customers."

Browne also advised that common sense is critical: "Do what common sense tells you and stay on that path; grab your idea and drive it home."

According to Browne, the U.S. wine industry is the healthiest in the world. Spending on wine is increasing more quickly than consumption, and the pie is growing. The Northwest is the number-one emerging market, he also told the group. And while that's essentially good news, it's tempered by the fact that 8 out of 10 consumers will pay less than $10 for a bottle for wine, while most wines from the Walla Walla area cost more. Still, "you can sell all your wine in the Northwest," Browne said--if you work well with distributors, visit key accounts, and essentially do your homework.

"Sweat equity--you gotta earn it." Browne said. "It's the most important thing to learn today."

Browne and other speakers emphasized the importance of developing and creating an image for your wine, delivering a consistent message, and knowing where you stand in the market. "We know your mama loves your wine, but you still have to understand where you fit in terms of price and value," said Dawn Smith, assistant wine director at Seattle's Canlis Restaurant, during a panel discussion on working with restaurant wine buyers.

Smith and the other panelists--Chris Sparkman of the Waterfront Grill and Shayn Bjornholm of the Washington Wine Commission--also emphasized the importance of doing your homework. "You need a comprehensive knowledge of your competition," Sparkman said. "Customers are more sophisticated and are asking questions on things like barrel fermentation," said Smith. "You need to be able to answer our questions."

Another point that was driven home, both on this panel and throughout the summit: the people out in front are as important as the winemaker. If you are not a nice, knowledgeable, friendly, sales-oriented people person, hire one, the experts advised.

"Winemakers need to be constantly educating themselves," said the Enology Center's Wells. "Attending conferences like this is an investment in your business."

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