To Review or Not To Review

You’ve done it. You’re first vintage is about to be released. Sure it’s only one wine, but it’s one good wine and you’ve worked your rear off and spent a lot of time and coin on making it. You’re a vintner. All you have to do now is sell it.

The question is: Do you send your wine out to the media for review and critiques?

Randy Sloan, Napa Cabernet producer and owner of Match Vineyards, as well as proprietor of The Vintners Journal Blog, was musing on this question (hat tip to Winery Website Report)

As Sloan points out, reviews can be a two edged sword. A bad review from Robert Parker or the Wine Spectator  can in fact hurt sales of your wines as well as help them. But it’s not as simple as as you might think. It’s not just about a score of 90 or better. And it’s not all about The Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.

There are a serious of questions and actions every knew winery should ask and undertake before sending out wines for sample.

1. Do you know HOW good your wine is?
A peer tasting for your new wine is a must. (Hell, every winery should regularly undertake a peer tasting). You gather up other wines of a similar price point and from a the same general appellation and you taste them blind alongside yours. And, you do this with six or seven other people. We often conduct these tastings for our clients at Wark Communications. It’s best to include wines that have garnered outstanding reviews in previous vintages. You do this to get an idea of how your wine compares to others in style and quality before you start sending out your wine for review.

2. Can you sell out your entire production without a review to help?
This very question alone acknowledges the power of reviews. There are thousands of wines available on the market. Restaurant and retail buyers as well as consumers have learned to rely on them for guidance. However, if your production is under 1000 cases and your wine is good, it’s quite possible to sell  your wine without reviews. A combination of shoe leather, brokers, attending the right events, a website and some guerrilla marketing will get it done. In which case, the issue of sending samples to writers and publications is moot.

3. Who should you send samples to if you are going looking for reviews?
The Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate can have tremendous influence on the wine market and on your sales. If you believe your wine is among the better examples of its type, both these  publications should get samples. But too many vintners dismiss other opportunities for reviews that can help their sales tremendously. In the first place, your local media that has an independent wine critic should certainly get wine for review. Reaching farther afield, the largest newspapers in your state that have wine reviewers also should get samples. You should also choose to send your wine to a number of wine critics that write their own newsletters or who write for a national audience.

The idea here is to hopefully obtain a number of good reviews from a number of sources. The result will be that it is easier to sell your wine when you or your representative walks into a restaurant or retail establishment. It will also lead to better direct sales via telephone and the website. And, theses reviews will lead to more mailing list sign ups that will help you sell more wine in the future.

4. Try to taste your wine WITH the reviewer
Any reviewer can taste a wine on their own and make an evaluation and write up the review. But what about calling the reviewer and asking them out to lunch and tasting your wine with them? Sure, you’ll send them home with another bottle for another taste later, but sitting down and breaking bread with a wine reviewer or wine writer is the best way to tell them your story. Far too few small winery owners do this.It’s why they hire PR folk. But they should do it on their own. It takes a phone call.

Were I to have my own brand, were it to be under 1000 cases of wine, were the wine to sell for more than $25 per bottle and if I knew it was good, I’d be sending it out to review to no less than 30 to 40 writers and publications for review. I’d include the Spectator and Robert Parker, newspaper critics, freelance wine writers, wine bloggers with a good audience…it would be a long list.

If you know your wine is good, there is very little to lose. Even if you don’t get great reviews from the Big Two, you’ll get a number of good and very good reviews from a number of other writers and publications that will help tremendously in selling your wine and future vintages of it.

Don’t Fear The Reviewer!

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