This is Real Innovation In the Wine Biz

vm1You know that digital and internet technology has thoroughly taken over sales and marketing in the wine industry when you can point to the simple act of pouring a glass of wine for someone, asking them if they like it, then selling them a bottle of that wine, and call this an innovation.

Yet, consider the innovation of the San Francisco Vintners Market. Now follow me here. This might get tricky.

Get a whole of bunch of small, artisan wineries together in one big room…in real time. No holographs of vintners. No Skype-present vintners. Real humans. And they are all pouring wine for you to taste. Real wine. Not digital representations of wine. Now get this…if you like the wine the real human being has poured for you and that you’ve tasted, then you can buy it right then and there and take it with you.

I know. Sounds crazy. No “likes”, no “friending”. No Email. No digital wallet. Just pour, taste, buy, move on.

On April 12 and 13 at Fort Mason in San Francisco, scores of mainly small, artisan wineries will come together atvm41 the San Francisco Vintners Market to pour and sell their wines. Meeting them there over these two days will be 6,500 wine consumers who have qualified themselves as such by paying between $80 and $150 to enter what is essentially a wine faire for real buyers. I have to reiterate, this is innovation in the sales and marketing of wine.

It’s important to point out that normally this kind of Vintners Market for wine buyers and sellers would not be allowed due to state laws. However, Fort Mason is a federal facility on federal land that regulates sales of wine on a different basis from California.

VM5Behind the Vintners Market is Cornelius Geary and Jeffrey Playter, Founders of Wine 2.0.and publishers of Drink Me magazine. In fact, the Vintners Market has been a regular, twice-a-year event since 2010 when Geary and Playter realized that in the midst of a recession, wineries needed a way to interact directly with customers. Since 2010 the Vintners Market has grown and evolved into two of the best wine buying opportunities of the year for consumers.

But consider the opportunity it provides to wineries. For $300-$450, you get a booth for the weekend and access to 6,500 wine consumers who have already paid between $80 and $150 to enter the building where they know the point is to buy wine. If you sell wine at an average of $35 per bottle, you need only sell a case to make your event fee back. If you sell one bottle of wine to one-half of one-percent of the buyers that walk into the event, you’ve sold three cases of wine, NOT TO MENTION the new customers and the residual mailing list members you will certainly sign up. It’s a little bit of a no-brainer.

For the wineries, however, to succeed at this event, they need to re-calibrate their thinking. Most events of this VM2sort are mainly promotional. There is no selling. So, it’s talk, talk, talk. Make friends. Tell your story. Send the new friend away with a piece of literature. At the Vintners Market it’s about selling. About asking for the order. About efficiently making a sale, boxing up the wine and taking care of the next person. Wineries attending will want sales people in the booth as well as your best spokespeople.

But the real winners at this kind of event are the consumers. They are walking into the ultimate tasting room where scores of wineries and hundreds of wines are there to discover. The wineries are primarily small and artisan in nature from up and down the state who make their wines in small batches. The prices of the wines will run from the teens into over $100. Nearly every type of wine you can imagine is there for the tasting and for the buying and for the taking home immediately. Surely, the wineries will take an order and ship the wine if that’s what the customer wants (and this may even be most efficient), but the immediate gratification factor—so important to wine consumers—is what make this event unique.

For all the benefits that come with social media and new technology including the new ways to connect with people, stay in touch and communicate, these new developments in communication all attempt to bridge a divide and even admit to a plastic quality and disconnectedness between buyers and sellers. Hence the unusually potent value of having a wine tasting room in this day and age.

This condition also points to the real value of something like the San Francisco Vintners Market where a winemaker can look a wine lover in the face and explain how the rocky soils in their vineyard help uncover the unique character of a wine being swallowed at that very moment. Or how a wine lover can take an afternoon to expand their horizon and palate by laying their hands on the wines they covet rather than running their eyes over a screen.



12 Responses

  1. Lee - February 26, 2014

    Great idea, but unfortunately the pay the $75 and get hammered Marina Crowd is out in full force. Same problem that ended ZAP at that location.

  2. Tom Wark - February 26, 2014

    Lee, My understanding is that this isn’t so much a problem. Good crowd control, higher ticket prices help lots.

    • Lee - February 26, 2014

      Higher ticket prices helps, but still it’s devolved into a non-buyer party atmosphere.
      I’ve poured at many of them, and they are not getting better, they are getting worse. (for sales)
      I’m not sure it’s fixable.
      Perhaps a much higher ticket price with a purchase voucher built in?

  3. John Kelly - February 26, 2014

    Tom – I had a lengthy rebuttal teed up, but I’m going to post it elsewhere. Vintners is no better or worse than Family Winemakers, ZAP, Pinot Days, Rhone Rangers or any other wine festival at Ft. Mason. It’s still too noisy and crowded to allow the 1:1 interactions you tout, and there is no real incentive for buyers. Most people are still there to spend an afternoon getting banged up. No thanks.

  4. Samantha Dugan - February 26, 2014

    Yup, what John said.

  5. Ignacio - February 26, 2014


    This is a great post! You mean to tell me you can still conduct business the old fashion way?

    All jokes aside, I have been participating at this event since the very first, and I think you really hit the nail on the head. Your points are spot on. The opportunities presented at SFVM are one of a kind and personally I have had great success and each event keeps getting better for my brand.

    I have also heard most of the complaints, some which have been echoed here, but I also think they are misplaced. Like you mentioned, the approach of this event has to be different. I sort of think of it as a bubble that represents the market in general. You basically have three tools, your product, exposure and story to make a sale, but more importantly you have to ask for it.

    Most tastings have conditioned us to just talk and share the wine, but not sell on the spot. If you do, you come off as pushy. At SFVM on the other hand if you don’t ask someone else will. If you think about it, people attending only have so much money to spend on wine they like, so if they don’t give it to you, they will to someone else.

    Inebriated attendees are alway at booze events, it’s the nature of the business, but SFVM has great security and does a good job at keeping them at bay if they get rowdy.

    With each SFVM event the customers have gotten better and better and I have built up many new relationships. The attendees also have to be conditioned to buy, which now after several years at SFVM is paying off and they are buying my over $80 bottles of wine.

    In short, I share your views on “real innovation”. SFVM has always worked out great for me and many others and I hope to keep attending them in the future.


  6. Veronica Lane - February 26, 2014

    Hello, I’d like to comment as a winery.

    I agree 100% with Ignacio. These other generalizations can not be applied to Vintners – not all Fort Mason events are the same. I will enlighten as a participating winery who has poured at a few different events there. SF Vintners is very beneficial for our small winery. I will say that success depends on a few factors. We pour in the Reserve Room and have sold a few thousand dollars in wine- more with follow-up emails- give or take at each event. I’ve sold more at the last 2, so as Ignacio has mentioned building an audience is key….as is having good wine. I’ve tried good wines & some decent ones. If your wine is good, you sell; if it’s not, you don’t sell as much. period. Of course personality goes a long way and you have to ask for the sale. I’ve poured at highend events with $300 tickets and sold less wine; there are drinkers at every event regardless of age or ticket price. SF Vintners is NOwhere near ZAP. I’ve found nice young professionals in their late 20’s – late 40’s who do buy wine, some a bottle, some a case.
    For us, being able to pour and sell direct has been a great opportunity to make back our table fee (less than Family Winemakers charged us for a table) and make money, esp. as we have no tasting room of our own.
    I highly recommend this event to any winery wanting to promote and sell their wine

  7. Theresa - February 27, 2014

    After supporting many such events and reading the mix of responses, I think it is fair to say that each event varies.

    Judging the success of an event by an evaluation of the mass of attendees is only one factor. It may the opportunity to connect with 5 or 8 new buyers who end up being loyal and long term clients. In turn, those clients could bring you additional business and potentially result in thousands of dollars in recurring sales.

    It is the responsibility of the organizers to manage the event with ticket prices, maximum capacity, dress codes, etc. in a way that provides venders with positive results however – venders must actively provide feedback to the organizers of the event, so that the organizers can manage and address the issues. Of course, not participating is the loudest way to make a statement but it would be great if such events could work for everyone.
    Yes, you may have to look through the “thorns” of the attendees who are there solely attending the event to drink wine with friends and enjoying themselves – but that is where many wine sales originate.

    Pouring staff often feel they are at an event to pour wine. Booth staffers should know that you are looking for an ROI. And they should understand that generating the ROI comes by engaging with people and connecting in a way that makes you stand out from other wines/wineries as this can impact the post-event sales.

    I work with wineries to increase direct to consumer sales (ecommerce, events, club and tasting room) and I know that the more people seem to engage in the tasting process and the more they start to identify their own preferences, the more discriminative they are at choosing the wines they want to taste.

    In respect of that, I just tried a new ap called QuiniWine. I am still in the evaluation process to see how it engages the customers, but maybe such a solution would help the attendees ENGAGE with the wines/wineries, in a way that enables them to find the wines they are most likely to buy.

    As an winery, setting your goals and preparing your pouring team to engage with attendees is your best plan for success. Yes – you can always argue that there is no time to even speak with anyone. And I guarantee that if you start with that as an excuse, then you will definitely NOT have enough time. But you don’t have to engage with EVERYONE. Be reasonable and set the goal to engage with “X” number of potential clients.

    If you are not having success, then take a look at the wineries who attend year after year. Check out how they handle the crowds and what they are doing differently so that they find the event profitable.

    And get everyone on your follow-up list for post event contacts.
    Best wishes for success to you all!

    • Theresa - February 27, 2014

      email change

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  9. Marshall - March 6, 2014

    I’m trying to think of what the downside is to having a somewhat inebriated customer in front of you who like your wine. Is it that he’ll buy too much?

  10. Lee - March 11, 2014

    A late entry, but an accurate take on the “Frat Mason” area.

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