Love or hate the 100 point system, Robert Parker’s rise to dominating the wine critics’ world has changed the way we think about wine, what we buy and the resources we use to make our wine-buying choices. His influence is so great that what he says about wines can actually shift markets around the world, greatly affecting buyers, wineries and wine economies.
Wine critics and reviewers, such as Parker, can greatly influence what consumers choose and can also drive up wine prices. I am not saying that the wine is not worth the price tag, but if you are making that high dollar wine, you are not making it for the people that actually are drinking the wine. Don’t confuse the wine collectors and connoisseurs with those that actually buy to drink.
Several years ago Constellation Brands completed their own study on wine drinkers. The study found that consumers fall into six unique segments with differing attributes, motivations, preferences and shopping behaviors. Those six segments are: Enthusiast, Image Seeker, Savvy Shopper, Traditionalist, Satisfied Sipper and Overwhelmed.
Enthusiast: knowledgeable and passionate about the total wine experience
Image Seeker: wine is a status symbol, one of many these consumers use to help define who they are to the world, believe the price is a good indicator of quality
Savvy Shopper: enjoys shopping for wine; like the Enthusiast, who is very knowledgeable about wine but, unlike the Enthusiast, this consumer is very much about self-discovery
Traditionalist: these consumers have been raised on traditional values and value things that have a history to them; feel that established wineries have perfected the art of winemaking
Satisfied Sipper: They drink wine all the time; They know exactly what kind of wine they want and grab it and go.
Overwhelmed: the wine aisle has hundreds of items, they’re just completely confused, but looking to learn more.
You may recognize yourself in here or maybe you fall in between a couple of categories. Where do you see Robert Parking fitting in here? I’d say an Enthusiast and Image Seeker.
So what does this all mean to you as a winery? Do you need – even want – your wine to receive a high score by The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker) or Wine Spectator?
If your local wine scored a 90 by Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, what happens then? First, get clear that this exciting, over-the-top event for you, only lasts one week for the wine critics and readers. Next week there’s another list of 90-point wines. It’s like the Pop Charts – you’re at the top this week but there’s always another hit on your heels. Now you’re in competition with all the other high scorers. Second, this 90-point wine will be pricey – you’ve earned it – but who’s keeping track of these scores and cares? The Image Seeker.
Is the Image Seeker your target market? Maybe it is. But if you are a boutique winery that only sells regionally or locally and you have no plans to sell nationally or internationally, then a 90-point score is worth less to you than the cost of delivering the wine to be reviewed. Why would I say that? Because the people coming into your winery are not coming in because they read something in Wine Spectator. They are coming in because they are coming to your winery. Visiting a winery is destination shopping, like going to a restaurant. They have already decided to spend money there, so you don’t have to convince them to buy. The amount of effort and money it would cost to be considered for a review is more than you were already going to sell! People are not getting on a plane to come get that wine and the few that might order online are not going to make that much of a difference to you. Keep in mind, this is a one-shot deal. You may get a spike in sales, but then you go back to what you were already doing.
On the other hand, if your goal is to go national, then achieving a high score in a wine magazine is definitely one way to do it and it may be part of your marketing plan to get it distributed. But if your goal is to target those in your region, then this is not your plan. The costs significantly outweigh the good that you will get.
Why your winery doesn’t care about Wine Spectator:
1. People who live outside of your region are not going to go out of their way to your winery because they saw a high score. Reminder, there are 5000 wine scores reaching 90+ issued every year, so although yours is exciting to you, it won’t last in the minds of others for long. You are competing with those other 5000 and if you are regional, you have no chance because the buyers can’t even get if they wanted it. They may make a trip once or order online, but that’s it – a few sales.
2. If you are selling online, you might have a spike in sales when the score comes out. But like a pop record, something new comes out next week. And often small wineries can’t handle that many orders at one time anyway. Plus you may not be prepared to ship across state lines, or have the correct permits, or know what reports need to be filed for other states, etc. Often there are unknown costs associated with sales that offset the anticipated revenue.
3. The people who are coming to your winery, were already coming or would be coming because they wanted to visit your winery, not because of some wine spectator score. Take the money you might have spent to get the high score and put it into your regional marketing. You will benefit much more doing that than you ever would with a high score.
If you are looking to build a national brand, then a high wine score may make the difference in distribution and marketing, but if you are a local boutique winery, you would be better off spending that money on local marketing, advertising or events. Spend your money on your own market – REGULAR customers. You are looking for repeat customers – not Robert Parker’s opinion. You want to please those who will join your wine club, come out for special events and bring along their friends.
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