The evolving wine consumer – The Real Business of Wine

Watch The Real Business of Wine – The Evolution of Consumers

On 21 April, our chair Nicole Rolet and executive director Pauline Vicard joined hosts Robert Joseph and Polly Hammond of The Real Business of Wine webcast, as well as guests Amber LeBeau of Spit Bucket and Francis Perrin of Washington’s Chateau Ste Michelle, for a virtual discussion on the changing wine consumer. 

Pauline presented part of ARENI’s research started in partnership with bordelais négociant Mestrezat, and conversation ranged from storytelling, the influence of the internet on our methods and modes of communication, and the impact this current covid-19 crisis. 

Sherry Stolar shares her main takeaways.

Storytelling – What we tell and how we tell them 

“You have to switch from the ‘how’ and shift towards the ‘why’ when you tell stories” 

Storytelling has always been a huge part of our ecosystem, but in the current climate when consumers can’t come directly to wineries, restaurants and shops, the importance of storytelling has increased immensely as a prerequisite to capture attention. 

Historically, we’ve relied on the beauty of our vineyards and the samples in our tasting rooms to sell our wines; yet, when a consumer is trapped at home on the couch, this approach doesn’t quite work the same. Consumers are reluctant to commit to purchase of a whole bottle – multiple bottles – when they haven’t had a wine before or don’t feel a connection to the brand. Although virtual tasting room experiences seem to be all the rage nowadays, the experience for the consumer simply isn’t the same as being at a winery itself. 

Not only do we need to find new methods of communicating with consumers (re: the internet), but we also need to think about how we tell stories in these channels. Few consumers want to hear a winemaker wax on poetically about their soils and vineyard protocol for more than 30 seconds. How can we make wine fun again? Digital natives require a new language, one that prioritises connection, relatability and, ultimately, pleasure. 

Many other industries are good at telling not only their own stories, but the stories of their consumers, something we in the wine industry can often overlook. Now, more than ever, people are craving connection; anything we can do to make them feel they identify with us as a brand, as a company, will foster a sense of belonging and loyalty. 

Finally, who is telling our stories? Increasingly, consumers are turning to their local merchants and online retailers to purchase wines, so it’s increasingly important for us to develop relationships with these middlemen to effectively communicate our messaging. 

If you aren’t using the internet, you’re already behind

“The people who are the best at it will survive and will indeed prosper.”

Hopefully that’s a given to most of us reading this article, but don’t underestimate the number of players in our ecosystem who simply thought they could keep doing business as usual. 

While, of course, ours is a people business, having presence online doesn’t mean you have to lose the human aspect. In fact, if used correctly, online tools can enhance it. 

More and more consumers are buying wine online and many are predicting this trend to continue even after we return to “normal.” So, rather than stick our heads in the sand, we must engage with the people where they are. Consumers are taking on new habits now and we must be open to doing the same. If you don’t already have a social media presence, what are you waiting for? Post regularly, share authentic stories. “Take off the polish, take off the veneer…show us the real people.” 

Work with your supply chain

Engage with other players in the ecosystem. Partner with négociants retailers, restaurants and sommeliers who have a large online following and expand your reach. Likewise, use hashtags; this was pointed out to be incredibly important for smaller wineries, in particular, to get their voice heard amongst the noise. 

The plight of the small business

“How best to convey sense of: we need you to buy (for us to survive), along with we want you to want to buy our wines because you love to drink them, and you want us to survive?”

Nicole Rolet eloquently alluded to the challenge smaller wineries like Chêne Bleu have during this time. It’s one thing for a large winery with huge amounts of capital to adapt its heavily-invested marketing strategy to digital, but what can smaller players do with fewer resources and who are feeling the financial implications more immediately?

It’s a fine line in how we communicate this plight to our consumers. Again, transparency and authenticity are crucial to the language we choose. We want them to support us because they enjoy our wines, connect with our stories and want to continue to be able to drink our wines. 

Now more than ever don’t overlook the value of the simple excel spreadsheet. We discussed how many small wineries fail because they don’t run the numbers properly or keep track of customers. Get your house in order now and make sure you understand what you need to survive. 
And the advice above applies to small wineries just as much as larger ones.

Get your voice out there! Share your stories, work closely with your suppliers and retailers to help spread your message further. Many local retailers are seeing their best sales months throughout this and consumers are coming directly to them for recommendations. Be top of mind when that happens. 

Ultimately, the sentiment we left with is that there is this positive space that we can all move into now, but it means experimenting and trying new things. All of us are going to have to be a lot sharper to set up for the future. 

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