You’ve Got the Look, You’ve Got the Hook
In this post, I want to address the concept of Package. This factor, whether we like it or not, is crucial to the market success of a wine. No matter your line of business, it is the goal of any entrepreneur to present the public with branding elements that are consistent with the product’s envisioned “image”. We all know that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, and yet the cover is inevitably the first thing we see. Wine must come in a bottle — so, which bottle? What’s on the bottle? What seals the bottle?
In a perfect world, every wine would be tasted blind, but, as Paul previously discussed, there are multiple levels of value on which a winemaker must compete. In the end, hopefully, a quality wine will be successful regardless; but first it has to join the race. Right now, Blair Vineyards is trying to find our niche in that race. With the construction of a vastly bigger, better wine-making facility/tasting room (set to open in April) to accommodate the doubling of production scheduled for the next harvest, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to recreate ourselves.
In my days of wine retail, the store carried a Portuguese red called “Lisa.” It was drinkable, but not really worth its seventeen dollar price point. We kept it on the shelf because it was purchased often, but always, to our amusement, by someone whose sister, girlfriend, wife or daughter’s name was Lisa. My coworker and I joked that one day we’d start a winery, make some mediocre cuvees called “Katie”, “Tracy”, and “Jessica”, and we’d be millionaires in no time.
The cause of Lisa’s popularity was inadvertent, but other marketing strategies are more deliberate. For example, R Wines’ “Evil” Cab and “Bitch” Grenache flew off our shelves. I simultaneously resented their kitschy irreverence and respected their successful capitalization on consumer trends. “Evil” wasn’t bad, either. But then there are, in my mind, a few true successes: creative, striking, and congruent with the product — it just fits. My example is Orin Swift’s “The Prisoner” Zin blend. Its thick black glass displays a wordless front label with a powerfully dark Goya etching and a simple two-tone back label with only essential details. The wine itself, in my opinion, is similarly genius in it’s boldness; a little dark and abrasive at first, but when you let it sit for a while and come back to it, you appreciate the intricate layering. Just like Goya’s piece of art.
That was a pretty long digression, so let me return to Pennsylvania. Here in the Lehigh Valley, we have the benefit of a relatively clean slate, so our image may be developed without preconceived constraints. My employer, Mr. Blair, is a farmer and a family man at heart; he loves the vines and the land, and seeks to follow a Burgundian model of terroir-driven, tradition-based winemaking while embracing certain green practices of modern biodynamics. He is also committed to European philosophies regarding the close relationship of wine to local food and culture. Our current label just doesn’t come close to conveying this mission statement. The glossy paper, tacky bold font, and Microsoft-circa-’95 design scream anything but “old-world elegance.” We are all well aware this label needs to go. But where do we go from there?
We also currently use a wax-dipped seal in place of shrink foil; a nice touch, perhaps, but very inefficient (and occasionally painful for the designated hot-wax-dipper). Then there’s the “screw cap vs. cork” debate which could take up a post all its own. While the screw cap is much cheaper and in some ways more reliable, I believe that there are enough “cork purists” out there to make it worth sticking to tradition until we build a reputation. R Wines has a big enough following that this new closure was just a next step, but we have yet to build that kind of consumer base. Plus, if we are trying to invoke Burgundian Montrachet, we don’t want to look like Australian Shiraz.
There are many facets to consider, but the ultimate goal is to entice people to buy the wine and let the product speak for itself. Right now, we are stuck in the wrong market: wrong wine for the local fruit-wine drinkers, wrong package for the wine-savvy city folk. We hope to eventually draw the crowd that will be pleasantly surprised that what they’re drinking comes from Berks County, PA and not Beaune, France.
If you have any suggestions or ideas, please feel free to tell me all about it!