Brands From the Bunghole

Ah, September, when a gentleman farmer’s fancy turns to making it rich in the wine business.

Of course, many of them will say it’s a “labour of love,” but we suspect that’s code for not making any money – to the point that they hold down other jobs during the year to cover expenses.

While in vino there may well be veritas, there should also be a good chunk of pecunia (money). Unless it’s made in the basement.

There are pretty much only two kinds of wine. No, not red or white. Commodity and oenophile. Commodity is just that, wine that’s purchased in the same way one purchases milk or bread. A table wine staple. Oenophile wines appeal to those who get into pairing with food, cigars or other wine geeks.

Beyond being backed up by decent wine, a wine brand that's in for the long-run is one that's more than a cool name or a hot label. It's a wine that has a story. A story with chapters. And a few sequels.

Name the hot wines or wineries from five years ago that are still on the consideration set today. How about three years ago? That’s OK. Neither can we. Chances are they were one or more of the following: shocking, cheeky, modern, trendy or cute. Who's still drinking Bitch or Fat Bastard? Been there, done that, got the synthetic cork.

Unless the business plan calls for a bottle re-label of offshore liquid every other year, when it comes to relationships, a brand should be in for the long-haul. A cool name, catchy graphics and an interesting package (boxed wine is coming on strong) grab attention and buzz when they first come to market, but beauty will always fade.

Yes, we may have built a winery on the very spot that Elvis first made contact with an alien race of prostitutes that flew in wooden spaceships, but that does not a wine brand make. With all the money a small winery will spend on getting a new wine to market, there is no way to recoup it in just a vintage or two.

So, let’s make some money, shall we?

To Thine Own Self Be True Dat
Figure out what you’re all about, not what you think you should be about. A visioning session will pull out what the winery and its players are all about. The values that define it. The ideas that drive it. Ownable positioning in the competitive space. Everything that can be backed up by the owners, managers and staff and taken up by those exposed to the brand.

I Love You, Man (Or Woman)
Identify and understand who the target wine drinker is. Anyone who says their wine “is for everyone” is lying or naïve. Every wine/winery can be paired with groups most likely to embrace it over other groups of consumers. Who is most likely to take a second look at this brand because of what it represents? Who will this badge value appeal to?

A Proposition for You
Figure out the benefits of the wine(s) and winery as they relate to the just-defined audience(s). Why? What’s needed to talk to them? Exercise the emotional and rational characteristics of the product and brand to appeal to the audiences predisposed to specific varietals, techniques/styles, packaging, price and distribution points.

It's All Relative
Figure out how this brand relates to other brands in the space and avoid looking and sounding like them. Opportunities: Look around. Collect labels, names, slogans, headlines, descriptions, colours, typefaces. This is about a break-through, not a break-and-enter. Understand the appeal of winning brands. Appreciate the shortcomings of failure brands.

Grapes on the Story Vine
Create a story vine to support the position, the consumer, the product and the price. Every grape on the story vine is a chapter. Every chapter has to relate to the other chapters. How the wine is made is related to how the grapes are grown, the amount of sunlight, the minerals in the ground, the angle and face of the slopes, the local superstitions, the high school the winemaker went to, this one time at band camp, how the wine is sampled -- for a wine brand to be successful out of the gate and into the long-run, everything is connected. Every time a grape is added to the story vine, it needs to connect, otherwise one might end up with a French-style winery with all the trappings and emotion of Provençe coming out with a wine named after the 18th letter in the Greek alphabet and set in metallic foil.

Certainly, there's more to creating and maintaining a wine brand than can be covered here but, for us, these are the main considerations. It's assumed that there is already an idea about what kinds of grapes can be grown where, the style of wine they will give themselves to make, infrastructure costs, etc. – some people call that a business plan.