Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wine biz Tweeter these days on social media

Karen Cline does yeomen’s work as coordinator of publicity and marketing for the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail. She’s a go-to resource for me, someone I can hit with an e-mail or phone call on any given day and get what I need – story ideas, trail info, contact information for a winemaker or proprietor or someone associated with wine -- to continue churning out the blog posts on a daily basis. Any trail or winery would be lucky to have her.

So while I was pleased to hear that the trail sent her to Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, a few weeks ago to participate in the third annual License to Steal Marketing Conference, as someone who works for a newspaper I wasn’t thrilled to hear that we and our media brethren are being slowly phased out. Not maliciously, mind you, but because so many other forms of marketing, much of it now through social networking, are becoming increasingly successful at a cost far less than running an ad in any of the major media.

“A lot of wineries are slashing their advertising budgets and using more social media to get to customers,” she said. “One person said they slashed their ad budget for print media and traditional radio, and things like that, to 25 percent of what it normally would be.” Gulp.

Cline was one of around 90 people who attended the three-day conference, sponsored and coordinated by statewide wine offices of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Essentially it was a chance to share experiences and swap notes, then bring the ideas back to their respective wineries or wine trails to see what might work for them.

“Some wineries realize the value of bloggers, some of them have contacts like yourself,” she said. Others are doing [the blogging] on their own.”

One irony was that Cline wasn’t sure when we talked exactly who was making contact through myspace and Facebook and Twitter or producing their own blog because the event’s coordinators gave out a list of attendees that only included physical addresses. Not a phone number or Web site or anything else. But that problem was soon to be rectified, and Cline was waiting for that other data to be e-mailed so she could make a better assessment of who was dabbling in what social media.

Appropriately, a local newspaper
carried a story on the event. Lifestyle editor Carl Feather wrote that Bill Geist, a marketing consultant from Wisconsin, was the guest speaker. Editors and representatives from major wine media, including the Wine Enthusiast, Vineyard and Winery Management and Wines and Vines, presented a session and were available for story pitches from the attendees. Tim Morarity, editor of Wine Enthusiast, was one of the evening’s keynote speaker.

Several observations based on a year doing this blog and out of my conversation with Cline:

* Check out this
home page for the Norton grape, part of an extremely successful marketing campaign being done in Missouri. “Norton is a variety of grape, and they’ve actually personalized Norton himself into a person and they have very cute promotional ads and stuff, and he has a Facebook page," Cline said. "And the woman who does the marketing and advertising for Norton, she’s on Twitter, so I'm following her around now.”

* There are marketing directors out there working wonders by utilizing the media without incurring a cost. Certainly, the Brandywine and Lehigh Valley trails have generated much publicity for some of their events. To a lesser extent, from what I’ve seen, the Bucks County and Berks County trails have gotten stories written in the mainstream press. Alison Smith with the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau seemed to create a ton of coverage for the recent
Tour de Tanks, including TV drive-bys, that helped to drive record crowds into all the wineries during the March event. A few at this point -- Chaddsford, Crossing Vineyard and Hauser Estate -- are leaning on agencies to provide press releases for upcoming events, but those remain in the minority.

* Wine trails are becoming more and more useful in order to drive traffic. And you’ll see those continue to develop in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The half-dozen wineries in Maryland’s Frederick County have developed a trail, for instance, and another seems to be taking shape in and around Lancaster, Pa. The Mason-Dixon Wine Trail actually includes four wineries from Pennsylvania and four from Maryland, and after several years of falling by the wayside has re-energized its efforts to develop new initiatives.

* Finally, my observations is that some proprietors seem put off by even a phone call; indeed one question that some of the old-line winery owners seem to ask is how they’re going to find the time to upgrade their marketing and promotional arms with all the work required to run the winery. It’s a good question, but taking five or 10 minutes to talk to someone (whether it’s me or one of many other bloggers now writing on wines in this area) would seem to be a good way to get the word out with an absolutely minimum amount of investment. As someone told me a while back (and if you don't mind me getting just a bit self-serving), “It only takes a little while to talk to you. You’re doing all the work and taking the pictures and writing them up. They don’t do anything. They should be very grateful.”

Winemaker's meal April 25 at Crossing Vineyard

Jason Brounce will have a hand in the winemaker's dinner on April 25.
For those living somewhere in the Philly or surrounding area and looking for somewhere to go on Saturday night, April 25, Crossing Vineyard and Winery in Washington Crossing is planning a Spring Winemaker’s Dinner.

Guests will receive a five-course gourmet meal, a chance to sample the winery’s new release wine – and some inside information on its winegrowing plans for 2009.

Cost is $89, plus tax and gratuity. Entrée substitutions may be arranged in advance. Seating is limited.

Guests also will meet Jason Brounce, Crossing’s vineyard manager, who says he developed a “love of processing fruit” during his 14-year journey from “historic farming” to state-of-the-art. Brounce, who will offer a preview of plans for this year’s vintage, says agriculture has been part of his life since he was 16 and learned farming from a generation that used horse-drawn equipment. He studied agriculture and business management at Penn State, then worked for a family farm founded in the early 1800s. He grew high quality, small fruit in its orchard and helped start a cider press and bakery.

Brounce said he left farming for a few years in search of a “better career,” but all endeavors left him feeling that “something was missing.” When he joined Crossing Vineyards in 2005, he said, he was “able to tie in my traditional beliefs, my state-of-the-art learning, and my love for producing fine products from the fruit I grow.”

Dinner will begin at 7:30 p.m. with an amuse bouche of seared scallop with horseradish remoulade, paired with Crossing’s Viognier ’07. Next is an entrée of pissaladiere (onion tart), paired with Riesling’ 07, then a plat du jour of veal roast with preserved lemon sauce, baby carrots with sultanas and creamy braised leeks, paired with Chardonnay ’07, Cabernet-Merlot ’04 and Vintner’s Select Red (NV, new release). A cheese course, paired with Merlot ’06 and Late Harvest Vidal Blanc’ 06, follows, then strawberry-rhubarb tart for dessert, paired with Brut Rose (NV).

Reservations may be made by calling 215.493.6500, ext.19 or online at the winery's Web site. Directions to the winery can also be found there.