Mad world

So, a distributor got really kinda innovative. And I have the world of admiration for what it is that they have done.

Except. Except for how they are marketing this innovation.

Everyone in the wine game knows how hard it is to sell wine. There are roughly 2700 producers of wine in the country. Plus imports. Many have multiple labels. Essentially, it really is the lucky country if you are a consumer with a taste for vino. So: crowded market. But the biggest problem is how we go about selling. Which often involves giving the stuff away. Via events. Via promotions. Via deals. And so the value of wine – a jewel in the Australian crown, a source of constant pride – is persistently eroded.

We do not go to restaurants and ask them to taste every dish before ordering. And yet at cellar doors, and at wine tasting events,  this is exactly what we do. With the full knowledge that after a few “tastes”, few consumers can identify a preference, let alone a clear reason as to why, and after a few more, it really ceases to matter.  And with a despairing comprehension that only a small percentage of these tasters will ever buy the wine at hand. And with the full knowledge that most are checking their smart phones for the best available deal on the wine they might like, rather than appreciating that the value of a cellar for less in its capacity to actually sell.

And I get it. There is a multitude of styles, all clamouring for the consumers’ attention. It is no longer red or white, sweet or dry, riesling or sauv blanc, cabernet or shiraz. The consumer needs to understand the regions and the vintage variables, the winemaker peccadilloes, and the concept of residual sugar, or oxidative handling. Let alone what “natural” actually means. And they then need to work out how this actually impacts their palate and personal preference. And often then to work out how to factor food into the equation.

And so we have sommeliers. And the truly great bottleshop employees. We have wine writers, wine shows and judges. We have wine events.

And yet. The world of wine is myriad. A maze of style and variation, and that is before climate and vintage variables are brought to bear. There are wine varieties that even some winemakers fall to adequately comprehend, and so how do we explain these to the consumers? How do we tempt, entice and educate?

We pour free tastes of said wines.

Fair enough. That is a part of the game.

Which leads to this devilishly clever plan devised by an eastern seaboard distributor.  Called “Free Wine”. A deal done with a ravenous bundle of restaurants wherein you can actually order a free bottle of wine via your clever little app on your clever little phone to be delivered to your table. For free. Gratis. I have absolutely no doubt that the venues love this factor. They will often sell additional bottles. They are getting the wine which they are actually selling at – at the very least – a substantial discount. The distributor is driving business directly to its pet venues. And the wines are being showcased in the best possible scenario: at a restaurant, with a residual ‘bonus’ factor from said wine being “free”.



I have no issues with this programme whatsoever. Except for the name.

Free wine. Free. Wine.

Does no-one else see an issue here? Single-handedly, this distributor has increased distribution, driven business and demolished the value of these wines.

Why buy the freaking cow if we are giving the bottles away willy-nilly?

Oh. And they are collecting the user data at a rate of knots to target them post-dining with exclusive sales offers. Which is only noted if the fine print is inspected (ha!). So why should the peoples EVER pay full price?

Because we know how much people love being spied upon – with complete consent, but even so.

It is kind of genius, one has to admit.

Except. Free. Wine.

Bloody hell. Why even bother to sell it to anyone if we are just going to give it all away?

There is method here, however. And a kind of magic. (Sorry Queen)

The distributor is banking on a residual goodwill factor. Much like that utilised by a cellar door restaurant. If the restaurant experience is great, the wines see a flow-on effect.

But, and correct me if I am wrong here, cellar door restaurants do not actually advertise “FREE WINE”. They also tend to actually charge for the wines they sell. Novel concept, it appears.

Any business should know better than to give their product away. It dissolves the opportunity for sales and negates the value of the product itself.

And in a crowded market? Hmmmm.

I get where they are going. Really I do. They have locked in wine lists for a minimum period. They have been innovative. They have driven business to their customers. They have shored up relationships for some time to come.

Which is great for the distributor. And the venues.

But. But. I am not entirely sure that as a winery I ever want my wine to be seen as having no value. I’ve worked hard to grow my vines and make the wine. Surely it has a value?

And I get the idea. The idea is awesome. It just requires a little less “free” and a little more value.

At risk of repeating myself: My wine has value. Does yours?