Putting Your Heart Into Wine PR

While my intuition and survey of the industry tells me that a smaller percentage of wineries these days are committed to engaging in a robust program of sending wines out to critics and magazines for review, I’m of the belief that this form of marketing one’s wine is quite sound and should be pursued in many a case.

However, I’m equally of the belief that a bottle of wine that shows up at a magazine’s or critic’s door that only has a bottle in the package long with a simple product sheet is really a wasted opportunity. Rather, wineries should consider sending along with that review sample a full range of materials…and STUFF.

It’s common practice, as well as essential, that every bottle of wine sent out for review at least have with it information on the suggested price of the wine and the amount of the wine produced. This is, however, the least that can and should be sent out with the wine.

Some critics and reviewers out there may not like my suggestion that the box the wine comes in be filled with more than just wine and an easily retrievable piece of paper that gives the basics on the wine. This is probably especially true of those who received hundreds or thousands of samples each years. To those critics who are reading this, I offer my apologies.

Consider first the reason for sending a bottle of wine out for review: You are first hoping the wine will be positively received, but then you are hoping that positive reception will make into print or 1’s and 0’s. One thing to keep in mind about this is that it is the very same goal every other winemaker has when they send out their wine for review. This leads to an interesting question: Your wine is very likely to appeal to the reviewer equally as well as MANY other wines they review. That is to say, your wine is likely to be assessed with a very respectable 88 or 89 or 90 points—just like many (a hundred?) other wines they receive. Yet, the reviewer or publication only has so much room their publication or web site devoted to reviewing wine.

Why yours and not another’s?

The point of the package you send to a reviewer is not merely to get your wine reviewed, but to get that review into print. Put another way, the point of sending a wine out for review is to create a compelling case that readers should know about his wine.

Does a simple bottle with a price and production numbers on it do this? I don’t think so.

So here’s the thing: When putting together the package into which your wine will be placed and sent off to the reviewer or magazines, consider what could accompany it that will make a compelling case for the wine; that will make it more interesting than the others they receive; that will suggest the wine tells a larger story.

What kinds of things might doe the trick?

Consider going with full disclosure. That means a product sheet with ALL the information. And I mean ALL INFORMATION. I’d put the following on your information sheet:

Vineyard, vineyard location, Google map link or image, vineyard size, age of vineyard, name of vineyard manager, soil composition, growing season history, trellising method, date pruned, date of verasion, date harvested, brix and pH at harvest, average tons per acre, average pounds of fruit per vine, clone, rootstock type, etc, etc.

And we haven’t even gotten to winemaking methods and post bottling analysis of the wine.

Why so much information? Why full disclosure? Remember, the idea is to tell a story, not just deliver a wine to a critic. It’s true the information may be discarded by some. But each each of these details tells part of the story of the wine. Each of these details has the potential to spur an intriguing thought or idea in the mind of the reviewer. Each of these details gives the reviewer more information to translate for their reader. In the end, all this is done in the service not just of celebrating your wine, but of getting it reviewed AND into print.

Save for the potential expense, I can think of few reasons not to include this kind of information along with your wine as well as a myriad of other information…and items.

What else could be included to help tell the story of your wine to a reviewer you hope will turn around and re-tell the story? What about…A portion of a pruned cane, a leaf, a canister of dirt from the vineyard. What about photos of the vineyard? What about a block by block map of the vineyard? What about photos of the vineyard crew? The list goes on and, again, we haven’t even gotten to the winemaking part of the story, let alone the items and information that might address the character of the wine.

This advise is probably most appropriate to those wineries that don’t always see the wines they submit for review actually show up in print. That, I suspect, is a very large percentage of those that send their wines for review to different reviewers and publications.

I can’t tell you how many winemakers and marketing types have explained to me that they’ve simply given up on sending wines for review to the media. Yet it is undeniable that a positive review can be extremely helpful in selling the wine as well as getting those who sell your wine interested in it. But if you are going to use samples as part of your marketing activity, doesn’t it make sense to put your heart into it?


5 Responses

  1. Ken - February 11, 2008

    Hi Tom,
    I do appreciate when I get the information that request. The extra info might be nice, but getting the basics in a timely fashion and in the format requested, would be even better. The wine if Very Good or better will get the notarity it deserves. (at least with me) However, it gets posted to the web faster if the winery or marketing firm provides the data necessary up front. A good clean bottle shot or label shot .jpg isn’t as easy to obtain as you might think. Some reviews get held up for weeks just because of that missing piece. If you want to have your reviewer appreciate your wine even more, make their life easier and send all the data electronically when the wine is shipped out. This will save some trees and get your wine review to be published faster. Just some thoughts. Ken

  2. Dr. Debs - February 11, 2008

    I like Ken’s suggestion of the electronic zap of info when the wine gets sent. I appreciate that the person okaying the sample isn’t the same one (necessarily) packing the box, so this would make it easier for me personally to get what I need without lots of web searching.
    Also, if people feel the regular press is jaded and doesn’t respond to samples, they should try bloggers. Most of us are financing most/all of our own reviews and appreciate any help we can get to taste more widely that doesn’t involve a second mortgage!

  3. Steve J - February 12, 2008

    I am always surprised when a sample arrives with no supporting information. Well, not surprised, amazed would be a better word.
    If for no other reason than that a wine producer should want to control the message. If the reviewer likes the wine enough to write about it – a significant hurdle to be sure – you as the producer should make it as easy as possible to write about.
    And I really like Ken’s comment about including some information electronically.

  4. Fredric Koeppel - February 13, 2008

    Thanks for this post, Tom. I for one would be dismayed to think that wineries and marketers are deciding not to send wine samples; we writers and reviewers (unless you’re Eric Asimov with a real wine budget) depend on them, just as book reviewers depend on review copies of books from publishers. After 24 years of reviewing wine, it still amazes me though, how many product sheets I get that don’t include the price, as if mentioning money sullies the idea of the wine. And it continues to amaze me how many winery websites do not provide easily downloadable jpg images of labels or bottles. I like to run a piece of art with every review, and not having access to images definitely slows down the process. Actually, I’m hung up with a winery in Washington state because its website is strictly display; there’s no info or art! I agree with Ken: do all this through email that includes all the information we need and jpgs that we can use immediately.

  5. Kathy B - February 24, 2008

    Good subject, Tom.
    Any winery that wants its wine tasted in the seamless flow of arrive-taste-review-post should consider the following protocol:
    1. Strong recyclable packaging so wine arrives unbroken and is easy to dispose (no polystyrene or peanuts). Austria and France’s cardboard postal boxes are good examples. This will become more important as the industry lightens glass. Don’t send in a flimsy cardboard box and then wrap each bottle in plastic (Italians, South Americans, South Africans take note with understanding that the box may need to be plastic wrapped to prevent theft).
    2. Timely reply to form sent with request or otherwise provide answers (owner, company, importer, website, tel, email etc.)
    3. Retail $ price
    4. Technical sheet
    5. Note of vineyard, winemaker, or other production changes.
    6. Website with real, complete tech sheet—for each wine—and don’t use flash. PDFs that are readable. Fewer and fewer wine websites have technical information (and even more so with spirits). If you want to keep trade info separate, send me sign-in authorization with sample.
    7. Understand that the point is to make the review accessible to consumers. When basic information is missing, it has to be found, delaying tasting your wine and others that day.
    All this is consistent with Tom’s approach except one: I am absolutely against chotchkas. For many reasons including waste. Will I need to let the winery know my footprint on how it went into the trash for the WI calculator?
    And…because the attention-getter may not work. When I was features editor at the Oakland Tribune, I received tons of things designed to grab my attention. One stands out: a major cosmetics company sent out a plaster statue of Venus de Milo (www.milos-island.gr/history/venus.jpg) to show off a new face-and-neck aging cream. Venus, already without arms, arrived with her head broken off. For years, I showed the statue sans head when speaking to PR groups about confusing marketing with the product message. Yes, the statue made me remember the product and what a failure the cream must be. Did the product get any ink? No.

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