There’s an excerpt from Cork Dork, Bianca Bosker’s brilliant book of wine-trade foibles, that summarises the impenetrability of traditional labelling – and, by extension, the weird ways in which we communicate with consumers about wine.I picked up a bottle in L15 J and studied the label trying to find its producer, just to see if I could hack it on my own. “Coenobium” was written in huge letters across the top. That had to be the producer.“Um, koh-no-bee-yum?” I guessed.That was a fantasy name, and it was pronounced “Sen-no-bee-yum”. I tried again. “Lazio?” That was the name of the town. Lara ran her finger down a long paragraph in Italian, past the fine print about alcohol level and bottle number and sulphite content and some government identification code. She stopped next to a microscopic line of text at the bottom edge of the label. “Monastero Suore Cistercensi” it read. The producer. Of course.
Reflecting on this, there have been two stories which have caught our eye on wine Twitter in the past couple of weeks. The first was the furore around how wine lists are written, sparked by New Yorker’s restaurant reviewer Helen Rosner sharing a wtf snapof an impenetrable – to all but the geekiest of esoteric wine geeks – wine list.
The second was an article about the experience of a wine tourist, consumer and collector in, (we bet you our last $300 bottle of vanity-priced Cab), Napa. Rob McMillian of SVB wine shared an email from a reader detailing the wilful abandonment of basic customer service, and even courtesy, at twelve unnamed cellar doors.
Responses to these two features sat mainly at either end of a scale ranging from ‘this is everything that’s wrong with the wine trade’ to ‘yes but that’s not my experience’. These dichotomous perspectives are the axis on which the trade endlessly turns. Either, ‘wine speak’ plays an important role in the trade by standardising a global language for wine; or ‘wine speak’ is incomprehensible for the consumer and demonstrative of the trade’s exclusionary attitude.
To us, it ultimately boils down to a disconnect in the way the trade appraises the value of direct to consumer [DTC] marketing. Some of the biggest disruptor brands are modelled on a DTC sales funnel: think Hello Fresh, Glossier – even, yes, Naked Wines. These brands capitalise on a formula which has digitised the experience of IRL DTC selling. The wine trade has always been at its best when engaging consumers in real life – but now it seems that these cherished IRL experiences are compromised for the digital.
When did we start to place value in Instagram likes, over treating each and every consumer as the potential brand ambassador they are?
The cellar door is DTC ground zero. For brands in pursuit of the ever-elusive experiential customer experience, the cellar door is priceless. So why are so few emerging regions jumping on it – and why are so many established regions failing to exploit the potential of these DTC sales to their full extent? For starters, it’s basic sense to have at least an approximation of a CRM strategy. That really doesn’t need to be more complicated than a notebook with key customer purchases jotted down – but many seem to be getting it wrong in focussing on the one-time purchase over the lifetime value of the customer.
Ditto restaurants. To state the obvious, the drinks list is a tool to add-sell from the primary product, food. However, it’s also a vital means of opening conversation with the customer and, again, building a relationship which delivers lifetime as opposed to momentary value.
If wine lists can’t be written in a manner which invites even the most wine-apathetic customer to make an informed choice, then why not just get rid of them altogether? Hand selling every glass may be labour intensive but you can bet every customer would remember that experience.