The Engine is Red

How to Modernize Your Wine Brand Without Sacrificing Heritage

Written by Chris Denny - President/Founder of The Engine is Red

Photo illustration by Greg Horton

There are more opportunities to drive relevancy with your wine brand than ever before, due in part to the fact that people are consuming it in record numbers.

Competition is stiff, and the market has a double-edged sword, sharpened by factors that didn’t exist until recently.

For instance, LeBron James sharing his love of wine on Instagram has new impact on a market that is still discovering what social media can do. That wasn’t something wine brands had to contend with, or had access to, in recent history.

This is just one kind of change the market is watching, and there’s so much more. From kegging to urban wineries, varietals from unexpected regions, rosé revolutions and the return of the spritzer, consumers are exploring every corner of the wine glass.

On the business side, consolidation, direct-to-consumer ecommerce, competition from marijuana, craft brewing and Coca-Cola, can make the task of modernizing seem daunting.

Millennials are leading the conversation about wine, pushing established brands to create new paths of discovery. The truth is the Zeitgeist belies the reliability of an age-old adage about wine branding: It’s all about the story.

In fact, the narrative behind the wine is just as important as the wine itself. It means something that Domaine Cousin-Leduc’s Chardonnay was grown from vines worked by a horse named Joker, for instance. Or that Rombauer Vineyards has a direct link to the original author of the “Joy of Cooking.”

That’s because wine drinkers want to find a wine they love almost more than they want to drink a wine they love. Today’s wine drinkers lack confidence, in their knowledge of wines especially, but they long for a sense of discovery.

The truth is the Zeitgeist belies the reliability of an age-old adage about wine branding: It’s all about the story.

So getting their attention isn’t as much about ‘modernizing’ or reinvention, but about digging past what’s trendy to the wine drinker’s interests and passions. It’s about engaging a wine drinker’s depth and identifying and validating where wine fits into their lives.

This strategy builds a sustainable relationship between the wine and the consumer, finding lasting points of connection. Wine brings people together. It’s the shared life experience we’re selling.

This is reaching for the ultimate truth in your strategy. And typically, it’s going to start with your vineyard’s origin story. Find the ways that narrative sets your brand apart. Then identify creative ways to reach your audience.

For a less established vineyard, it’s important to be credible and authentic, even when the story is unconventional and comes in surprising ways.

Smith Story Wine Cellars, a Sonoma County-based brand that produces wines in Europe and California, began with a Kickstarter campaign that pledged to put “farmers first.” It was co-founder Alison Smith-Story’s 65,000-strong Instagram account for her Labradoodle, Lord Sandwich, that really launched the brand. Her followers became her early investors. It made sense when they asked when the dog would get his own wine.

So in 2016, Smith Story Wine Cellars produced 600 cases of Lord Sandwich Red and donated a portion of the proceeds to charity. The endeavor was not only validating for their customers it cultivated loyalty by proving that the brand shared their values and interests. And it didn’t hurt that their campaign landed them a story in the Washington Post.

Now more than ever today’s drinkers want a sense of discovery. Tasting rooms on cruise ships, overnight stays at vineyard-based lodges and dinner parties are all ways to create a lasting impression that builds brand loyalty. The good news is that today’s wine drinkers are open-minded. They’re just waiting for you to help create the memory and the experience that drives a dialogue with the friends who share their bottle.