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"Taste Washington" Tackles Wine Marketing

Panelists address ratings and the impact of interactive social media

by Peter Mitham
Taste Washington
Taste Washington drew a mix of trade, media and consumers to sample food and beverage from Washington state producers. Photos courtesy of Washington Wine Commission

Seattle, Wash. -- There’s no such thing as bad news in the era of social media, an industry panel concluded at the seventh annual Taste Washington event in Seattle last weekend.

Panelists Liem Le from market research firm The Nielsen Co., chief strategy officer Paul Mabray from Napa-based Vintank and blogger Tom Wark of Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog discussed trends and strategies, but the discussion closed with a question of special significance for Washington’s wineries: Is any news good news in the media?

The topic is especially hot following media coverage earlier this year of one vintner’s resistance to having his wines rated. Christophe Hedges of Red Mountain’s Hedges Family Estate maintains that scoring is subjective, and potentially misleading to consumers who don’t share the palate of the reviewer.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect wine. If there’s no such thing as a perfect wine, how can there be such a thing as a wine that scores 90?” he told Wines & Vines. “The ultimate goal isn’t even real. You’re quantifying something subjective. It’s ridiculous.”

He vigorously defends his liberty from ratings and the critics who render them, and sees social media as opportunities to develop a brand identity for his family’s 23-year-old winery independent of the critics, scores and other arbiters of consumer taste.

“You should not use Facebook as an outlet to sell your product. What you should do is use Facebook to create an identifying marker for your estate, your property,” he said, describing Hedges’ own Facebook presence as an opinion page that chiefly draws wine-savvy friends. “It’s an opinion page on how Hedges Family Estate views the world of wine,” he said.

Taste Washington
Panelists Liem Le, Nielsen Co. (left), Tom Wark, Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog, and Paul Mabray, Vintank, addressed an industry seminar about wine marketing trends.
Panelists agree: Get in the conversation
The attitude connects with current wisdom in social media circles that emphasizes authenticity and engagement rather than one-way messaging aimed at selling product. And that approach underpins the responses given by the panelists at Taste Washington, when asked about controversy in online media.

“Whether or not you like it, people are talking about wine in these forums,” Mabray said. “You can’t get away from the fact that the masses are talking about your wine.” Mabray encouraged wineries to acknowledge that reality, and let the discussion work in their favor rather than try to suppress it.

Wark agreed, saying that accepting the conversation that’s happening and engaging with it can’t hurt and may even help raise awareness of wines that are available. “There’s no downside in my opinion,” he said of online chatter and winery participation.

Similarly, when one seminar participant asked how valuable the various new social media are to brand building, Wark discouraged discounting the impact. One channel may not have a lot of followers or generate great impact, but the collective impact of a sustained, consistent presence over time could be significant.

“A lot of micro-influence over time creates macro-impact,” he said.

The industry seminar kicked off a weekend of events March 27 and 28 that culminated in the grand tasting at Qwest Field Event Center on Sunday afternoon. A total of 3,600 attendees, 225 wineries and 60 restaurants participated in the weekend, organized by the Washington Wine Commission.
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