Winery customers as brand ambassadors

As more winery sales go digital, branded gear proves to be a winner. 

Roger Morris has explored the world of wine merchandising.

Why not offer groceries to pair with the wines?
Why not offer groceries to pair with the wines?

If you are a winery owner, an image of a group of friends or family being served a bottle of your wine with its beautiful label clearly visible may appear to be the ultimate in generating revenue while also building up your brand image. But what if you could recruit those same loyal consumers to become your brand ambassadors – and buy merchandise from you to do so?

Today, many producers around the world who sell wine on their websites are adopting a broader sales strategy, one that garners extra revenue when online buyers fill their virtual checkout carts with branded merchandise that appeals to their wishes – ones perhaps they did not even know they had. 

For example, a customer who goes online to order a few bottles of his favorite sparkling wine for a big party may also be tempted to show his skills at decapitating bottles of bubbly with a backhand swipe of the winery’s branded Champagne sabre. Or a woman in search of a bottle of rosé for a community picnic may buy a new T-shirt to wear, a tote for the bottles and a picnic blanket – all branded with the winery’s name and logo. The possibilities are endless – a crystal decanter to go with a winery’s iconic red blend or the winery’s own olive oil for cooking food to pair with its wine or artisan cheeses from the winery’s neighbor that may entice guests to visit the winery’s site.

 

From glasses to cheeses

“Ten years ago, we had minimal items other than our wine for online sales, mainly just Riedel glasses engraved with our logo,” says Lisa Mattson, director of marketing and communications at Jordan Vineyard & Winery in California. “Then customers in our winery gift shop would ask if they could instead order a Jordan decanter after they returned home.”

Visitors to Jordan know its fine culinary hospitality, so it seemed natural to add charcuterie and cheeses to its online DTC portfolio. When COVID struck and Jordan’s facilities were closed, more items were added. Today, the Jordan fanatic who visits its website can find that engraved Champagne sabre in a special wooden box ($170), an elaborate Durand wine opener ($140) or marble coasters with the Jordan Cabernet label ($12.50).

Jordan winery offers wine related products such as a Champagne sabre but also cheese to pair with their wines

 

Sell it online

Other wineries who already made promotional items have also decided to sell them online. "At Nyetimber, we initially developed our branded items for events and as part of our brand collateral,” says Eric Heerema, owner and CEO of the leading English sparkling wine house. “However, we often found that consumers at events or through social media would ask where they could purchase these items, so we decided to make a selection of our products available as a way to bring home a little bit more of Nyetimber, along with our wines.”

Today if a Nyetimber devotee wants to show his loyalty, he may do so when it rains – as it often does in England – by raising a Nyetimber brolly (£56) or, when it isn’t, by spreading a Nytember blanket (£30) for sunbathing in the park.

There are other marketing advantages to having a robust line of branded products lined up next to the bottles of wine in the website’s shopping area, especially if those items are produced by the winery. For example, many wine estates practice sustainable agriculture by growing other crops and by having orchards alongside their vineyards. So, having a grove of olive trees and making commercial olive oil from them is a particularly popular practice across southern Europe and increasingly in California.

“Esporão olive oil is an expression of its territory,” says the Portuguese wine company’s US import head, Frank Paredes, emphasizing that an estate’s terroir influences the taste of other produce grown there and not just its wine. “We are located in Portugal’s Alentejo region, and our olive oils are harvested from olive trees planted over many years,” he says, adding, “We treasure indigenous olive varieties.” In addition to a winery, Esporão also has its own olive mill.

 

English sparkling house Nyetimber decided to also sell their promotional goods online

 

Famous for their wines, Tuscan producers also offer other products for sale online – a friendly reminder to at-home cooks that the Italian wine region is also famous for its cuisine. Chianti producer Badia a Coltibuono has available to its website shoppers house-made balsamic and red wine vinegars, both grape-based products. Corte di Valle’s online “farm shop” tempts wine buyers with “saffron pasta, made by a local pasta maker, acacia honey enhanced with saffron, a tasty leek and saffron paste – excellent for preparing toasts or for seasoning pasta – and saffron biscuits from an antique family recipe made exclusively from our own olive oil.” All keep the winery in mind and perhaps entice a buyer to visit the region.

An alternative for those wineries who don’t make their own food products is to do website co-marketing with neighborhood food producers. Austria’s Domäne Wachau, for example, sells local mustards, jams, chocolates – even a Grüner Veltliner soap. In England, Balfour’s Hush Heath wine estate in Kent offers locally produced honey online.

 

Support the brand image

But whatever is being sold online, it is important to choose merchandise that reflects the image of the winery and adds to – and never detracts from – its brand. “We’re always looking for high-end products, and want nothing that is ever schmaltzy,” Jordan’s Mattson says. As Jordan is a wine-list staple at many high-end restaurants, the winery’s decision to add fine caviars ($135 and $240) to its online culinary products on offer is no surprise.

Yoav Gilat, founder and CEO of California’s Share a Splash winery, adds, “My guiding principle is to have items that I would use or wear myself. I also look for things that are functional, not decorative or single-use items that may end up being disposed of quickly. I want the branding to be subtle, evoking the brand but not in an over-the-top way.”

To that end, Gilat T-shirts ($25) and signed-print posters ($150) for brands such as Cannonball and Angels & Cowboys are produced by award-winning designers and thus are works of fine craftsmanship. The stylish logos also draw fan mail, especially one of a young boy tucked into a “cannonball” dive. 

"Our favorite neighborhood restaurant features your wine and [have] in their front window a poster of your Cannonball,” a Canadian fan writes. “Each day when I walk my dog past the window, your poster makes me smile – makes me think of summer at the cottage and of the freedom of launching into the lake!" Another asks: "I am a BIG fan of your wine, especially your Cabernet Sauvignon, also absolutely love your label design! Do you have your posters available?"

 

Signature products of good quality can even create a real fan-base

 

Arthur Morgan, owner of wine-n-gear, a major source of wine-related paraphernalia for American online wine sales, says, “In recent years, the focus has changed to wineries buying more high-end products, and they are also making more investments in the packaging, such as special wooden boxes.” Morgan also points out that wineries are learning to better integrate their purchasing of online merchandise into that chosen for gift shops, as rewards to wine club members and as promotional items for their sales teams or for their wholesale and retail partners. 

Increasingly, those winery owners previously content just to use a wine label for brand promotion are now finding it also rewarding to see a fan wearing a winery T-shirt or perhaps even carrying its umbrella. Of course, the primary sales items for any winery’s online shopping remains its bottles of wine, which can be endlessly re-ordered. But at the same time, online merchandise can prove to be a significant line item in the winery’s bottom line in addition to its branding function.

Mattson reports that Jordan’s online merchandise sales have more than doubled over the past year, generating turnover in the upper tens of thousands of dollars – a nice bonus with its tasting room often closed and its restaurant clients fighting for survival. And Parades says that Esporão's extra virgin olive oil business accounted for fifteen percent of total company sales in 2020 and has experienced an average annual growth rate of around eight percent over the past ten years. 

“You have to remember that many wineries are still adapting to online wine sales,” says Morgan of wine-n-gear, “and now they are finding that merchandising is like the cherry on top of the ice cream.”

Roger Morris

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