On Wine Marketing—Be the Winery that Champions your AVA

I haven’t done a head count lately, but it appears that the number of wineries located here in the United States now numbers over 10,000. This seems like a big number to me, though who know….perhaps in ten years we’ll look back and think, “wow…remember when there were only 10,000 wineries in the U.S?”

Be that future as it may, one thing I do know is that with 10,000 wineries, each vying or the attention of the active, serious and committed wine lovers, it is more and more difficult for individual wineries to attract and hold on to their attention. Discovering what idea or thing or purpose that, communicated well and at the right people, will allow a winery rise up just a little beyond the others is more important today than ever.

So, I’m here to urge wineries to consider being the champion of their sub-appellation; to be the winery that educates about all things home turf; to be the advocate and endorser of that officially recognized region they call home.

It’s almost shocking that so very few wineries are willing to visibly and regularly carry the banner for their sub-AVA given all the benefits—promotional, marketing and sales—that this kind of focus will produce. Yet, more often than not wineries that live in and source from places like Coombsville, Santa Cruz Mountains, Dry Creek Valley, Dundee Hills, Chehalem Mountains and McMinnville, to name just a few, are more focused on their own vineyards or their own wines than on the AVA they call home. There is a huge opportunity here.

Here’s the theory, put in the context of wine writing: There are generally two kinds of wine writers. First you have the educator/journalist who writes non-judgmental, educational stories revolving around themes such as Springtime Wines, Napa Valley Cabernet Under $50, Great East Coast Wine Destinations. These are generally good writers who seek to inform and, when they do review wines, only review wines they like and simply describe how the wine tastes.

Then there are the wine writing advocates. These are far fewer in number but they stand out because they are judgmental, they champion a cause, they tend to be vanguards of a trend. They urge readers to give something a try and provide all the reasons for doing so. These wine writing advocates often appear more controversial, but they almost always stand out from the wine writing pack.

Stand Out.

It’s entirely legitimate for a winery to be the champion of their own vineyards, to hold up “terroir” as a wine’s greatest object of illumination. And many do. In fact, so many do that you really how to twist harder and shout louder in the marketing of your wines and vineyards when your own small bit of terroir is at the core of your brand messaging. It’s much harder to stand out.

But consider that it’s easier to stand out when you are the one who dies on the hill of an AVA you and so many others use. It’s easier because so few others are doing this. When you take time in your tasting room, on your website, in your tweets, through your posts, and in your emails to outline the sinewy, rugged, frigid contours of your home AVA, dig into the dirt under your AVA’s feet, describe the history behind the the creation of AVA borders inside of which your estate sits, and, yes, even recommend and hail your fellow sub-AVAers, you’ll be positioning yourself in a light seldom felt by those who receive reams upon digital reams of promotonal material from wineries courting them to come or to stay.

Who is the champion of the Yamhill-Carlton District in the Willamette Valley, for instance? Reviewing the websites of the wineries that call it home, few focus in any significant way on the details of the AVA—even the weird details, like the fact that neither the town of Yamhill nor Carlton actually fall inside the borders of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.

Earlier I mentioned there are promotional, marketing and sales benefits of being the champion of your AVA. If you consistently promote your AVA, if you promote your AVA in your media outreach, if you produce collaterol that educates on the AVA, if you put your spin on your AVA in your social media marketing and emails and mail pieces here’s what will happen, I guarantee:

You’ll be among the first the media calls when they profile the AVA

-You’ll be the representative most often chosen to represent the AVA at tastings

-You’ll have numerous stories to tell your customers that no one else is telling on a regular basis

-You will engender significant goodwill with your neighbors and peers

-You’ll be one of the go-to wineries when members of the trade are seeking to highlight your AVA on their lists or shelves.

-Your customers will be among the best educated when it comes to issues of terroir, soil, and climate, which makes them more confident consumers. (that’s a good thing)

I’m not suggesting you do the work of your AVA’s promotional/regional association, to which you not only ought to belong but be on the board of directors. I’m simply suggesting that by championing your home AVA you have a branding spear in hand that few others are using, plus you are still able to highlight your own estate vineyards not only as unique but as the epitome of what your AVA has to offer.

For nearly 25 years I’ve been hired by wineries to help them stand out from the crowd and to tell their story to the media, clients and trade. I’m pretty good at it, but in the end much of my and my clients’ success working the media and communicating is determined by what the winery chooses to use to differentiate themselves from their competitors. My recommendation is to always be a champion of something. Be the advocate. Say you believe in something and say why.

By being the champion of your home AVA, you demonstrate that it’s still possible to champion terroir without championing terroir in exactly the same way your competitors are doing so. More and more, this kind of opportunity for differentiation is rare in the wine biz.


5 Responses

  1. Mark Wong - April 8, 2019

    Great points and 100% agree!

  2. Ray Krause - April 9, 2019

    Been the champion (Madera on the label) of the Madera AVA and Madera County appellations for neigh on to 43 years. Helped establish the AVA . Charter member and past president and board member of the Madera Vintners Association / Madera Wine Trail which is second only to Yosemite and Bass Lake in local tourism draw. Can’t say we’ve ever seen an AVA mention or a visit from Tom Wark. There’s still time……

  3. Roger King - April 9, 2019

    Could not agree more Mr Wark, but I also witnessed what happened to Appellation America where most of the work was done, for free, for the winery to step right into this role, only to see few ever do it and those who did with no commitment.

    Branding synergies continue to be left on the table.

  4. Thomas Kruse - April 9, 2019

    I saw the word “fridged” and wondered if the writer meant frigid”.

  5. Gail Puryear - April 9, 2019

    I wrote the petition to establish the Rattlesnake Hills AVA to differentiate our wines from the generic Yakima Valley which encompasses regions I-IV but most of the grapes are grown in region I.Yakima Valley Bordeaux varieties tend to be vegetative in most years, but here in the Rattlesnake Hills we always ripen them beyond veg. Some of our wineries don’t like the name – too cowboy. Others think Yakima Valley is better known. Okay, I agree with you!


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