Friday, May 20, 2011

Who's to Blame?

Sampler Sets
First, I have to clarify that I’m not a marketing or media guru although I did spend the latter part of my career as a Canada-wide Product Manager in an industry unrelated to wine. This blog was instigated by a recent article asking  'Who's to Blame?'  preceded by a personal and unsuccessful attempt to buy Niagara wine for which I 'blame the winery'.  Also it's based on two years participating with Twitter and following the dialogue of many winemakers, media agents, wine distributors and wine writers, in Canada, the USA and Internationally.

The question was 'Who's to blame that there's 'no' Ontario wines on restaurant wine lists?' 
(see referenced article for context).

My conclusion is that, simplistically, wineries are to blame! Who else controls their market potential and growth? We can’t blame the LCBO for everything although clearly their mandate constrains a struggling Ontario wine industry.  Likened to a master/slave relationship the LCBO sets product pricing, restrictions on serving, sampling and  delivering wines on premises or at events. Penalties for violations are severe - from withholding licenses to closing access to Outlet shelf space. Such power ensures silent compliance. The LCBO is a two-faced god: a monopoly that controls the importation and sale of wines and an oligopoly that keeps serfs from free access to the Ontario market - a very successful organization for centralizing access and sale of alcoholic beverages in Ontario - a tunnel visioned business management system not capitalizing on the
domestic and international sales potential of hundreds of Ontario wineries. 

Local social media are partly at fault. Although well intentioned most think inside-the-box. It’s wine! So offer versions of tasting events or lists of tasting notes to entice customers into ordering wines, by the dozen if you please. In fact, if the tasting event is held at a restaurant you increase customer attraction to the wines being offered - this in turn will grow the business - so they say. I enjoyed the 5 course meal with wine pairings I had recently. Presentation of the wines was more than informative and it was delightful meeting fellow guests over five interesting wines and sumptuous cuisine. However buying wine was never an intention. ‘Tastings’, no matter how they’re gussied up, are on the periphery of what could/should be done to expand wine sales.

So why do I think this?
The Niagara and BC wine industries are still in their infancy. Other Canadian wine regions are still unborn, trying their best to emerge and search for nourishment in order to sustain growth. Individuals have voiced aspirations about their products but none have actually gained traction in the marketplace. I have no investment in their business but still am frustrated watching craft wineries swimming against the tide of imports, nonVQAs and ICBs. I can just imagine the exasperation they must feel!

What has held the Niagara Region back?
Generally, and unfortunately the good are swept up with the bad in this commentary, many of the social media influence wineries to put their effort into promotions that have limited or no return. Events that are a hive of activity sucking energy to attract a nucleus of mutual admirers, hangers-on and if lucky a few wine buying tourists. These events have little to contribute in growing the market or making inroads into fertile territory. Ontario consumers are willing and able… they just don’t play these games.

Also there is no ‘Petrus‘, there’s no ‘Caymus‘, a ‘Cakebread’ or ’Opus 1’ in the collection of Ontario wines. The Movies, even Canadian ones, toast with Dom Pérignon or Krug. I hear someone saying ‘but our wines are just as good - give them a chance!’  There’s more than what’s in the bottle going for the prestige Brands. They are recognized as symbols of ‘having arrived’. Some Niagara wines are priced as though they are equivalent. I say you have to earn a ‘TAG Heuer’ reputation before you set the price.

My advice to the wineries:
Return to reality. Take control of what’s planned on your behalf. Set your own goals to build your Brand. Set a means to reach these goals and measure your progress. Then you’ll be in a position to question anyone banging at your door giving marketing advice.

Random Thoughts and Why nots:

Ship anywhere - quickly, cheaply
  • Why not offer a periodical of winery releases - by varietal, price and winery, or by sub-app (1). Add ‘bin ends’.  Include every winery wanting in on this free publication. Include a 'Shopping List', à la Vintages. Copy Vintages magazine format but trim the waste space, marketing hype and expensive gloss - on second thought. Do your own thing!
  • Distribute it to Ontario restaurants that have an e.mail address or website. Put stacks in every LCBO Outlet.
  • Offer add-on services to restaurants - eg. a mixed case comes with a ‘sommelier’ created wine pairing for their menu entrées. 
  • Package sets of 100mL (or so) taster bottles so restaurant owners/sommeliers can sample without costly travel.
  • Establish convenient pickup points for your wines. The LCBO provides this for Opimian members - why not for you!
Who's to blame?  Wineries of course!
Cheers, Ww

Comment: 1. Just received another LCBO glossy this morning (28May11). A compendium of drinks mixed with alcohols from around the world.  Why doesn't the LCBO put together similar adverts for all Ontario wines - not just those with a listing? Whether sold at an Outlet or at a Winery we pay the same per bottle?  

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