Why Reviews and Wine Scores ARE Good Winery Marketing

Recently Simon Solis-Cohen, founder of Highway 29 Creative, posted on the company blog a story entitled, “Wine Scores Are The Worst Marketing Technique – So Stop It!”

First, let me just say this…The folks at Highway 29 Creative are GOOD! Take a look at their work. Take a look at their approach. Impressive.

They are wrong about wine scores being the worst marketing technique. An even worse marketing technique is submitting your wine for review, getting 95+ points from a reputable critic and not spreading that news as far and wide as you possibly can. 

Highway 29 Creative’s Solis-Cohen makes this case:

“Don’t assume wineries selling 100 point wines sell out every year. That is far from the truth. 100 points leads to an inevitable bottle price increase and possibly alienating past loyal purchasers.  Those loyal paying customers are then replaced by point-chasing trophy collectors who are now only interested in the wine because of its notoriety, not the taste. Soon-there-after, another 100 point wine is crowned and the trophy hunters move on to their next prize. The winery is left with a very expensive bottle of wine, has alienated its original and most passionate fan base, and is stuck with excess inventory.”

It’s not true that a wine that receives 100 points from a critic “leads to an inevitable bottle price increase.” It may in the secondary market, which makes sense since 100 point wines are a very effective 3rd party endorsement and lead to increased demand. However, this secondary market price increase does not necessarily impact those on the winery’s mailing list or those in its wine club. There is no reason that receiving this score leads the winery to inevitably increase their prices out the winery door. In fact, I’ve seen loads of wineries that don’t do this for exactly the reasons that Solis-Cohen says it’s a bad idea.

Solis-Cohen finishes making his case with this concluding thought:

“While I browse winery websites, receive mailing list emails, observe shelf-talkers in stores, and see winery produced advertising, I am astounded by the number of brands advertising scores of 90-95. I do not know the intention or expected result, but I think the brands expect some massive increase in sales because their wine got 92 points or maybe they feel it is a badge of honor. Regardless, the scores are relatively meaningless and harmful.”

First, it should go without saying that scores are not meaningless—even relatively meaningless. I’m not being pedantic when I point out that a 92 point score from a reputable critic has real concrete meaning. The score, along with the review attached to the score, means the critic liked it for the reasons they state. Moreover, that critic likely has an audience of folks who respect their opinion and will note his positive impression of the wine. This is all very meaningful.

I can explain the intent of wineries when they use very good scores to market their wine because I’ve helped wineries do just this for almost 30 years. The intent in using the score to help market their wines is to provide their customers, their followers, the industry, and others with a third party endorsement of their efforts. The impact of this effort is almost always positive. There is no expectation of a “massive increase” in sales as a result of using scores and reviews to help market your wines. However, there is an expectation that buyers and club members and mailing list members and members of the trade will have one more point of positive data to associate with a brand and a wine. I can’t figure out how that is a bad thing. And I’ve tried to figure it out too because I’ve been looked to countless times for advice from clients on how to use a very good score.

This is not to say that a winery ought to exclusively and only use wine ratings and reviews for their marketing and I don’t think the folks at Highway 29 Creative even address that possibility as an explanation for their post on using wine scores in marketing. Using scores and reviews is simply one aspect of a broader effort to communicate with the marketplace.

At the very beginning of his post on using wine scores as a marketing technique, Solis-Cohen relates a story of pouring a wine for a customer at a tasting room and asking “What do you think?” and then being confronted with this feedback: “What score did it get?” Solis-Cohen replies “What does it Matter?”

Wouldn’t a better reply be, “95 Points!”

5 Responses

  1. Jim Ruxin - September 12, 2019

    Hardly worth the virtual ink to comment on but here goes.

    This marketing maven may have fine design taste but not marketing savvy. If you are building a brand or trying to raise its visibility, there is enormous free advertising to be had with the “shelf talkers” that go along with high ratings in stores.

    A high score places the brand in a higher echelon in a consumer’s mind. So if you distribute to retail, these shelf labels attract attention, stimulate sales and increase status.

    How does he know that 100 pt. wines do not sell out every year? There is always an aftermarket for 100 pt. wines, sometimes higher than the initial release from the producer.
    There is a reason Harlan is buying up 2001 and 2002 at current prices over $1,000,

    Granted post release appreciation is increasingly rare. But the residual spotlight of the rating, online and easily searched, lasts forever.

    Like most big mouth advertising gurus, they neither love nor understand their products. It’s just more goods to sell. Bring on the next piece of meat and the higher billings.

  2. Bob Henry - September 12, 2019

    I am reminded of this cartoon whenever the topic of wine scores comes up on blogs:

    URL: https://mir-s3-cdn-cf.behance.net/project_modules/disp/db950c3989818.5601cbb9befe6.jpg

  3. Bob Henry - September 12, 2019

    Those of us with long memories recall this kerfuffle:

    “Robinson, Parker have a row over Bordeaux”
    San Francisco Chronicle “Food & Wine” section – posted May 27, 2004

    URL: https://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/Robinson-Parker-have-a-row-over-Bordeaux-2755642.php

  4. Bob Henry - September 12, 2019

    Some may also recall a more recent “agree to disagree” within the ranks of The Wine Advocate.

    Neil Martin (then on the writing staff) scored the 2005 Larcis Ducasse red Bordeaux 87 points. His boss Robert Parker scored it 100 points.

    “Liv-ex Interviews Neal Martin, Part One”

    URL: http://www.blog.liv-ex.com/2015/07/liv-ex-interviews-neal-martin-part-one.html

    When presented with a cognitive dissonance-inducing moment, who do you believe?

    “Live by the sword [review] . . . die by the sword [review].”

  5. Bob Henry - September 12, 2019

    Found a better URL for the Liv-ex interview with Neal Martin.


Leave a Reply