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The Three Keys to Position Wineries and Wine Brands

by DAH on October 19th, 2010

I was in a discussion earlier this week about how wineries position themselves, and I worked my way around to thinking there are only three approaches, which are sometimes used in combination with one another.

I was actually confusing the person with whom I was in discussion, until I related what I was talking about to the familiarity of restaurants.

Q:  “If you went to In’N'Out Burger and saw they had a turkey sandwich, would you expect that to be their best menu item?”

A:  “Of course not. In’N'Out Burger is famous for hamburgers.”

Q:  “If you went to a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, would you expect to find Tyler Florence menu items?”

A:  “Not if it’s Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant.”

Q:  “If you went to Chez Panisse, famous for their use of local and in-season foods, would you be inspired to order a New Zealand lamb dish?”

A:  “Chez Panisse wouldn’t even offer that.”

And those are the three ways I believe that wineries position themselves and their brands. Here they are, in wine terms:

WINES OF A SPECIFIC TYPE OR STYLE … The winery positions itself as a Zinfandel specialist, or a sparkling wine producer, or a Burgundian house (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). They might make other things, or their specific wine type or style might be more esoteric or strange, but you would understand why they are famous. And the Burgundian Pinot Noir producer must be prepared for some questions and clever explaining if they decide to introduce Cabernet Sauvignon under the same label. Because that would be a disconnect with their primary positioning. It’s certainly possible for the winery positioned as a Burgundian Pinot Noir producer to offer Cabernet Sauvignon, but they might find it easier to do under a separate label, or in a different price category.

WINES TIED TO A PERSON OR FAMILY … A famous winemaker, or a large family, or a well-known sports or entertainment or business figure. There are plenty of wineries that are personality based, or family based. They may eventually become well-known for some specific wine, but usually they are branded with the fame or specific traits or skills of a person or persons. I used to work for Fetzer Vineyards, when it was a family operation. We told everyone that the entire family worked in the winery. And everybody expected to meet a Fetzer. I’ve also worked at a winery with a Mike Ditka brand, and all our packaging and promotion was centered on Coach Ditka, and his larger-than-life persona. Bonny Doon is Randall Grahm’s baby, of course. It is often difficult to keep these wineries successful, or to ward off price reductions, when the personalities are removed from the scene.

WINES OF A PLACE … Usually this means an estate vineyard, but it can also be the most famous winery of a region, if there aren’t too many wineries in that region already. Or the pioneer winery of an area. If you have a famous or unusual vineyard, or vineyard area, you can trade on that to create a brand. Near where I live, Edna Valley Vineyards, now a corporately owned winery, trades entirely on its history as a leading winery in its location, the Edna Valley. Norm McKibben and his partners in the Walla Walla Valley were famous for their grapes long before they began a winery. And they named their winery for one of their famous vineyards: Pepper Bridge. These wines of a place are often the most difficult to establish, but can be the most long-lived of brands, because they don’t usually rely on a specific wine type, or a specific personality, to survive and thrive.

Wine type, personality, place … those three elements define wineries and wine brands. Sometimes wineries and brands combine elements of those three. And when you find wineries struggling to tell their story, it’s usually because they aren’t clear about how one or more of these three wine positioning keys fit their operation.

DAH is David Anthony Hance

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From → Buried Cane

  1. great post, thanks for sharing

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