Women & Wine – Grape Expectations for Social Media from the Wine Industry

“It was the best of times and the worst of time..”  High hopes, erratic weather conditions, a tentativeness about the economy hovering on the horizon is what characterized this harvest season … or am I describing the Season of Social Media in the wine industry?

Yes, I love all of  the postings of  the ‘action’ in the wine world this time of year as Northern hemisphere wineries meet the challenges of each harvest. I’m a back seat winemaker – I love looking ‘over their shoulders’ to see how it’s done but would rather wait for what’s in the glass than roll up my sleeves not because it doesn’t look great/fun/challenging but because I have the strength of an ant and would probably cry big girl tears about 5 minutes into the first day.

So I  look forward to the beautiful pictures (or not so beautiful ones) of the ripening of the grapes, de-stemming and punch downs, the gorgeous and mysterious night-time harvest shots and more. And this year, a flurry of videos – some so boring you wonder why they get posted – others, well let’s just say that there’s a range of talent out there and we could probably all use a few more hours of practice.

And while the harvest will continue here in CA (and elsewhere) for some through November, many of the wine makers who we kept in touch with through email or Facebook or twitter (less so) are ‘signing off’ on another year’s efforts as they put on their marketing caps and head out to do their other important work – connecting with the consumer, wine club members and trade.

So now what?

The postings on fb and twitter are now about the flurry of Winemaker Dinners and other events across the U.S.  The response from the readers might be a ‘thumbs up’ (or Like) vs any real engagement.

And it certainly doesn’t make for great reading if you don’t live in a city where you can ‘catch’ them, enjoy the delicious menu and drink some of the wonderful wine while conversing with the person who made it (let’s hope all of these winemaker dinners actually have wine makers in attendance and not a distributor’s rep – but don’t get me started.)

So now there’s a big hole in what could be an even bigger opportunity to grow their friends and followers and engage the wine loving consumer.

This isn’t meant to be a criticism – it’s just my personal observation – that the daily updates from the wineries about what’s going on show big time line gaps and not a lot of interesting stuff that’s being posted now.

There is very little being written about what’s happening back at the vineyard, who are the people who make this all possible, things related to Halloween (hot topic for the rest of the world), etc. Most of the stuff being posted is about awards that have been won, new releases to buy and yes, a dinner that you can’t attend because you’re 500 miles from where they are going.

Again, not a criticism but the reality. So who’s minding the fb or twitter ‘store’? And what keeps that momentum going during the next few months and how will you grow  your fan base?

I did a little poking around over the past few days of wineries who have asked the question on their fb pages “What would you like to see on this page?” “How are we doing?” “What could we do better?”

And while I applaud these people for at least caring that there are two sides to this fb fan relationship and for reaching out to their fans, I’m wondering if perhaps they have no idea themselves (or strategy) as to what to do next in this new arena of talking to the consumer on a daily basis. Do they know what’s working and what’s not?

Here’s some of the answers that were overwhelmingly familiar – CONTESTS, CONTESTS and more contests. FREE PASSES to winery tastings. Recipes. Reviews of the wines. FREE STUFF. Giveaways. More giveaways.

And yes, these are great answers to such open ending questions. So how does a CA winery – or any other for that matter respond?

Legally, if you are a winery ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD you cannot solicit a contest entry from a resident of CA. And if I’m correct – and I’m looking to Facebook to supply me with this data, I have to assume that at least 25% or more of your fans live in California. Even if you’re a winery from France or Spain or Australia.

So if you wanted to invite people to enter to win free tickets for two to visit Napa for the weekend (no wine mentioned of course), you can’t include any entrants from CA which is probably the biggest market for your wine. I have spoken to people who represent the interests of CA wineries with the state and this legislation has been on the books forever. It hasn’t been looked at in light of today’s engaged and informed wine consumer and there’s no plans to modify it or present ideas for modification.

And let’s face it – contests are advertising. Plain and simple. A way to get the attention of someone about your product who might not have had any idea that  you exist.

When you think of all those potential customers who can’t participate in California – or all of the potential customers that you could be talking to you wonder – why not? I could not get an answer on this but I think the person that I was talking to was getting stuck on the idea of coupon redemption which we know is not the only prize available out there.

Consumers want to win a trip to the winery – or free tasting room passed – or even the inevitable silly hat (yes!) And none of that is allowed under the law if you live in CA. You can’t enter – you can’t redeem – and the winery is in violation if they try to engage or allow the California resident to participate – even if they are a French winery.

Recently legislation was amended (or lifted) to give wineries with multiple sites the ability to pour wine at those other locations. There’s also pending legislation (it may have passed) to allow visitors to tasting rooms to order a glass or a bottle (similar to the tasting room becoming a bar).

But if advertising is now taking the form of contests, promos and sweeps – how are wineries supposed to play in this competitive field if they can’t talk to their largest consumer base? And isn’t social media promotion and campaigns a great way for wineries to engage a consumer at a low cost of acquisition. Absolutely.

I asked Christian Miller of Full Glass Research in a casual email – so excuse me if it’s taken out of context Christian – How Much Of the Wine Consumption in the U.S. happens in CA? and here was his response.

The amount of wine that California consumes seems to vary depending on the data source, ranging from 18-21%. California has roughly 12% of the total U.S. population but (I removed the other sources) data has shown California’s share of core wine drinkers to be around 17-18%.

So what this law is saying is that we know that the consumer you’re looking to reach is right here in California but you can’t introduce them to your product via a contest if they are a CA resident and if you are a winery.

The consumer is saying – WE WANT CONTESTS – WE WANT FREE STUFF – WE WANT TO ENGAGE WITH YOU AND WIN STUFF RELATED TO YOUR WINERY LIKE TRIPS AND OTHER COOL STUFF and you can’t interact with them on that level. At least not until the CA law that bans this is lifted.

Now you might say that other states forbid participation of their residents if you’re a winery and you are correct. Right now (and I’m sure it changes every nano second) it’s illegal in TN (unless you mail in your entry), Arkansas, HI and of course UT.

We’re not even talking about winning wine. We’re just talking about getting people to enter for t-shirts, aprons, corkscrews with your name on it – forget it. A California resident cannot play.

So while we all have great expectations of this social media stuff and how it will help us grow the audience for our in CA and around the world, it seems to me that before we ask our friends and followers what they want we should make sure first that we can deliver.

Looking forward to your feedback – you can reach me at julie@womenwine.com if you’d like to engage our company on helping you come up with other ideas (that are legal) to reach your target consumer.

And if you’re a winery that is seeking new ideas – or how to kick-start a lasting and meaningful social media strategy that is legal in all 50 states than email me at julie@womenwine.com.

I hope you had a great Halloween – and that you slept in today! You deserve it!


Follow me @womenwine on twitter

Join our Women & Wine fan page on facebook. Check out our website at http://womenwine.com.

Women & Wine is a social media platform for user contributed content from lovers of wine, food and travel. The company creates online content, promos, contests, offline events – and helps develop social media strategy for companies seeking to market to this niche audience. Email me at julie@womenwine.com – our social media boot camp will help you kick start your strategy and get you moving in improving sales and creating brand awareness.


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