Digital Wine Crusaders

The creativity, ingenuity and adaptivity of winemakers has long been a global wondrous phenomenon. Dating as far back as the Cistercian or Benedictine Monks, or indeed the Romans, winemakers have conquered many adversities. Natural or man-made. Vines are grown in far flung places, grapes are trodden by foot, wines are made on shoe-string budgets in garages, bottles are handblown and transported on lengthy, smelly ship journeys. Ok, so maybe we have moved on since then, but nonetheless we are still gifted with so many incredible wines that have just the most impressive back stories. Winemaking is storytelling at its finest. Each grape, each barrel, each cuvee filled, all with passion, love and hope. And when the forces of nature beckons, these winemakers show their true skill. Frosts, hail, searing temperatures, bush fires, gale force winds, they see it all. Mere stumbling blocks in the process of creating the world’s finest beverage. However, the dramatic turn for the worst that 2019 took, quickly followed into 2020, a year we will never forget. 

As the world closed its doors and humanity went into hibernation, nature ravaged on. The sun still shone, the rains still poured, the vines still grew, and so wines still had to made. The wine lake of the globe spilled over. There were catastrophic affects to the wine industry. Globally over 20% of wineries had to cease production all together. 75% experienced a drop in sales, with small to medium wineries experiencing the most dramatic losses. Many of these types of wineries were dependant on their restaurants and their tours, which considerably add to their revenues. Furthermore, with the loss of the on-trade sector, and the majority of restaurants and hotels remaining shut for most of the year over, half of their sales were lost to this grim prospect. Wine fairs all over the world were cancelled, and the nature of face-to-face selling had faded away.  

The rule book needed to be written. These notoriously adaptive collection of winemakers had to scramble fast to recoup their losses. It was time to adapt more of a ‘direct-to-consumer’ model to their sales portfolio. Suppliers, brokers, negociants, restaurants, bars, trade fairs and any other previous platform of trade were now kicked to the kerb. It was a time for the producers and importers to showcase their own skills for selling their own wines, through the gargantuan median, of the internet. Online quickly became the supermarket aisles for many, the swanky lounge bar for evening cocktails, the steamy chef kitchen for cooking demos, the sweaty gym for captive sanity. It became the lifeblood of survival for so many of us. Our primary social facility.  

Live Instagram’s became a weekly, for some even daily feature, in their social calendar. And this is how the wine producers themselves hooked into direct contact and gentle persuasions. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram became integral to their marketing campaigns in 2020. Gradually the wine industry was becoming painfully aware of the crucial role of digital marketing as a valuable tool to reach potential customers, and most specifically millennials (25–40-year-olds). 90% of this generation use the internet. 

By listening and watching the online conversations these wine lovers were having, this becomes a direct line of insight for the producers and importers of what the current market is looking for. This form of mobile ‘e commerce’ gave a lifeline, actually a veritable raft for winemakers to begin the crawl back of Covid 19. ‘E-commerce” portals became crucial communication tools, capable of connecting producers (especially smaller ones) who want to make themselves known and housebound consumers who are looking for something new. Suddenly wineries could open their virtual doors and now Instagram and Facebook lives were happening between the vines, or in the press rooms or even the maturation cellars. Conversations were happening as grapes were being crushed, and for the consumer it becomes a very exciting feeling to be part of the story of the wine. This particular form of storytelling allows like-minded people to connect, generate emotions and share beliefs, and this entices wine lovers to invest further into these winemakers and importers. 

Most notably accounts like Wine Insider, Decanter and the Wine Wankers became staples in the living rooms of many with their detailed and investigative lives with wine producers. The consumer was transported to the hills of Tuscany, or the shores of Galicia or the foothills of the Andes through the warmth and charm of these new internet regulars, the wine producers. Wine influencers like Wine Folly, Wine Terminator, Kelly Mitchell to name a few started to represent a new third-party endorser. These accounts were the bridge between the loyal follower and the over worked and possibly over stretched winemaker. It was a meeting of minds facilitated through wine influencers, that understood the needs and desires of the modern millennial consumer. Very often these are experts and professionals that have worked in the industry for a long time and are using their communication skills to open up the ‘direct to consumer relationships’, that are so badly required by the wine industry. From the comfort of your living room, you could join an importer or producer on their visual journey though their winery, asking question and experiencing intimate contact with these highly talented wine makers. 

Those companies and smaller wineries that invested in a digital marketing campaign saw their sales begin to rise again. With a reported 1 billion users a day on Facebook, savvy wineries accessed Facebooks business pages and created online stores and virtual tours. An article in the Wine Enthusiast magazine claimed that 700,000 people watch a wine related video each month, with over 7000 wine tweets per day and now more than 1,300 wine bloggers specialising on wine. Staggering numbers that will continue to rise throughout 2021. It is now becoming increasingly aware that wine companies need to update their websites with mobile compatibility, visual tours, online shops, tangible back stories to their wines and continue the conversations with wine influencers and most importantly the willing and eager online customers. It is often noted that the future of the wine industry lies in the emerging markets, sparkling wine production, Rose and now the online sector. The digital crusade of the wine industry, that was greatly intensified by the pandemic in 2020, witnessed powerful results, so it looks like it may be here to stay. 

WRITTEN BY BRIGID O’HORA

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