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Technology from Vine to Wine to Market

Wine Industry Technology Symposium to examine new tools for wineries

by Jane Firstenfeld
Jordan Vineyard Winery iPad sales wine
Jordan Vineyard & Winery sales director Chris Avery tests sales presentations using the iPad. Lisa Mattson, Jordan Vineyard & Winery's communications director, will be speaking at WITS about the use of technology in wine marketing. Photo by Mattson.
Napa, Calif.—Since 2005, the annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) has brought together experts from within and outside the wine business to help growers, wineries and marketers make the most of the newest tools available to them. It’s a moving target, and every year yields valuable insights for both techies and technophobes.

WITS is scheduled this year for Tuesday and Wednesday, July 12 and 13, at the Napa Valley Marriott. Last year’s symposium drew registered attendance of more than 300. Keynote speakers on Wednesday morning will be Leslie Sbrocco, TV host, author and consultant, who will deliver: “The Vision and Technology Behind Thirsty Girl,” a member-driven community celebrating women. Serial entrepreneur Tim Bucher, who has held executive roles with tech icons Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, will take on “Technology and Innovation.”

Wines & Vines, a WITS sponsor, spoke with panelists on a few of the many more specialized sessions to get some juicy details. For the complete schedule and speaker bios, visit

Is telemarketing a dirty word?
One of the first breakout sessions on Tuesday addresses this touchy question. Susan Cole, director of consumer marketing for 10,000-case Pezzi King Vineyards, Healdsburg, Calif., is a panelist for “Consumer Direct Sales: Outbound Telemarketing: Managing for Success.” With 18 years of winery marketing experience, she acknowledged: “The word ‘telemarketing’ itself has the most negative connotation. People react viscerally.”

On the other hand, she said, “When we do a good job on the phone with our customers, we establish better relationships. Most wineries already have good relationships with wine club customers; but done well, telemarketing can enhance and improve those relationship, and make them better, stronger and more profitable.”

That, she said, is the whole point of the session. “How to build a more successful wine club base; how to extend the wonderful wine country experience they have here over the phone.” The panel will explore options: Should your phone bank be in-house or outsourced? Cole has used both, and suggested that small-to-medium sized wineries examine their choices. “They need a guide to metrics, reporting, database management and staffing. The answer is not the same for every winery.”

Outsourcing was the answer for 12,000-case Michel-Schlumberger, Healdsburg. General manager Judd Wallenbrock, another panelist, said the winery had contracted telemarketer Wine Leverage. “We’re not specialists in selling on the phone, so we hired people who are.”

It was a collaborative process; “We sat down with them, trained them; they became embedded in our company.” This, he said, gave the winery a comfort factor when the marketers phoned the winery’s 2,500-plus wine club members with a special offering to introduce a limited edition, $100-per-bottle wine.

“We allocated just 230 cases; they sold it all without even reaching all our members,” Wallenbrock recalled. “They sold $272,000 of wine in two weeks.” While monitoring the telephone program, he realized, “They were thrilled that we were calling them. As a winery, you don’t want to impose.” Telemarketing, he said, is “one more arrow in the quiver. It’s a huge extension of your direct-sales force.”

Integrate vineyard reporting
Wente Vineyards, established in 1883, has just begun implementing viticulture software at its 480,000-case home base in Livermore, Calif. On Tuesday morning, Shokie Lopez, Wente’s vice president IT, will moderate “Vineyard Operations—The Benefits, Challenges and True Costs of Implementing Viticulture Software.” On his panel, Wente’s senior viticulturist Rob Sorenson will relate the challenges involved in putting a new system into play.

“We just bought a new system, and are working on integration right now,” Sorenson said, while momentarily distracted from inputting payroll data. When totally online, Wente’s new system will report on some 3,000 vineyard acres, enterprise-wide, from harvest to payroll for some 35 vineyard workers.

“I’m making sure it’s accurate for payroll,” he said. “Hopefully there will be more pros than cons.” He expects to know more by the time WITS rolls around.

Promising new sales trends

Delectus Winery FedEx
Stacee Cootes, direct-sales manager at Delectus Winery, will speak about emerging trends in direct-to-consumer wine sales, including quick response codes and FedEx's new Cold Chain Solutions program.

For those who’ve attended WITS in recent years, it’s hard to imagine what hasn’t be en covered already, but every edition brings something novel to light. “Emerging Trends in Direct-to-Consumer,” a Wednesday breakout session, promises to reveal continuing advances in this profitable channel.

Panelist Stacee Cootes, direct-sales manager at 5,000-case Delectus Winery, Napa, cited QR (quick response) codes as “The wave of the future.” These codes, embedded in labels or other packaging, allow the ever-widening pool of smart-phone users to scan them at retail sites, connecting buyers directly to “anywhere the winery wants.” 

Delectus is now adding QR stickers to labels of its current releases, bringing buyers to a website that is being revamped to fully accommodate the application. This direct-to-consumer tool enables wineries to “Reach out without the hand-sell,” Cootes said.

She’ll also expound about FedEx’s brand new Cold Chain Solutions. Delectus was one of nine wineries that beta-tested this shipping option last summer, and Cootes considers it a game changer because it eliminates “the last mile” in the shipping chain that can literally cook wines awaiting delivery in overheated trucks.

FedEx, she explained, consolidates wines weekly, then ships it via four different routes to hubs, from which shipments receive priority treatment and are delivered in the cool of the morning before 10 a.m. The program will be open to other wineries in June, according to Cootes, allowing them to ship virtually anywhere year-round without concern for temperature.

“It restored my faith in shipping companies,” said the DtC veteran. “This is huge. We can get the price down so low; we can use it year-round, without seasonal surcharges.”

Keeping up with change
Lisa Mattson, director of communications at 90,000-case Jordan Winery, Healdsburg, has long been an early-adopter of marketing technology. “As a winery, you really have to realize how quickly the pace of technology is moving and try to keep up.”

Mattson is on one of Wednesday’s final panels, “Trade Sales & Marketing: Field Tools for Marketing & Sales.” Many distributors and sales reps use their own tools, making the platform more diverse. Although distributors are moving to “pad technology,” she said, many reps still carry their personal iPads and similar devices. She advised wineries to be aware of this, and tailor their apps accordingly.

Mattson’s a Mac loyalist, and will highlight the “Keynote” Mac app, which, she said, far surpasses PowerPoint with “beautiful, dynamic, elegant, interactive brand presentation on iPads.” The program does present “steep learning curves,” she conceded, but Jordan is perfecting workarounds in order to present its classic image in its traditional elegance.

She noted that owner John Jordan presented 97 personal iPads to winery employees last Christmas, and commented. “These are efficiency tools,” for staff at every level. Among other sales-friendly features, she lauded a variety of PDF readers that make it easy to save and bookmark these portable data files that become accessible at the touch of a button, with no need for WiFi connections.

This is a mere tasting of the buffet of information to be presented at the two-day WITS. Online registration for the two days of sessions and a VIP Aged Cabernet dinner on Tuesday is open now at this link.

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Wine Industry Metrics
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IRI Channels »
Month   12 Months  
October 2015 $604 million
$8,267 million
October 2014 $572 million $7,790 million
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
October 2015 $288 million
$1,919 million
October 2014 $284 million $1,751 million
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
October 2015 179
October 2014 139 226
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