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Wine Marketing With an Eastern Twist

License to Steal conference inspires sharing ideas, visits to local wineries

by Linda Jones McKee
license to steal
Sessions at the ninth annual License to Steal conference ranged from increasing tasting room sales to building exposure through social media..
Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio—Winery owners, tasting room managers, several wine distributors, tourism professionals and representatives from seven state wine associations participated April 16-18 in a marketing conference known as “License to Steal.” The only conference in the East to focus exclusively on wine marketing, License to Steal this year set a new high in attendance, with 151 wine industry people attending from 14 states from Vermont to Arizona.

Sessions at the ninth annual conference covered a range of topics from increasing tasting room sales to building exposure through social media. Speakers included Ron Cates, director of new market development for Constant Contact, who spoke about engaging customers through direct e-mail communications; Marnie Old, a Philadelphia, Pa.-based sommelier and author (her most recent book is Wine Simplified), shared ideas about making wine approachable to the wine-consuming public; and Craig Root, a tasting room consultant from Davis, Calif., participated via Skype in a 90-minute session about tasting room management.

In addition to the many scheduled speakers, each day featured “steal sessions,” where all attendees, as a requirement of their registration at the conference, shared some of their best marketing, social networking and money-saving ideas for “theft” by the other conference participants. Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association and organizer of the License to Steal Conference, noted that she would like to keep attendance at future conferences at about the same size so interactive aspects such as the steal sessions can continue to involve many people.

Some of the ideas “stolen” at License to Steal included the following:
• The ins and outs of hosting a commodity group bloggers conference;
• Passport programs for regions and states;
• How to create an editorial spreadsheet for a social media campaign;
• Creating spheres of influence within your target demographic;
• How to hire the best tasting room manager.

One attendee, Fran Kratz from The Vineyard at Grandview in Mount Joy, Pa., told Wines & Vines that the content of the conference was very good, and she especially enjoyed the session led by Marnie Old. “She talked about the importance of being careful about the language we use to describe wine with customers and not use ‘wine-speak.’ For example, in the industry we know what the ‘body’ of a wine is, but the consumer may visualize a corpse instead. And there are lots of other examples.” Kratz attended the 2013 conference as well, and came again this year because she finds the real value to be in discussing ideas for marketing and different wine events with other winemakers and owners.

Highlights of License to Steal this year included visits to three local wineries. On the first night, attendees walked to the nearby Lakehouse Inn and Winery’s Crosswind’s Grill for a grazing reception that featured regional wines and food from ingredients grown within 50 miles of the winery. Many of the farmers whose meat, produce and cheeses were served that night also attended the reception.

On the final night of the conference, everyone was bussed to a wine reception at Laurello Vineyards and Winery in Geneva, Ohio. A five-course, eight-wine dinner followed at the Ferrante Wine Farm, also in Geneva.

According to Winchell, the visits to the local wineries were “a huge hit.” She told Wines & Vines that in the future, she may plan the program to end at the conference center by about 3 p.m. and then move everyone to different wineries to continue the sessions and then perhaps include a progressive dinner.

The 2014 License to Steal conference will be held April 8-10. For more information, visit

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