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An Open Letter to Mr. Steve Heimoff Regarding his Millennial Wine Competition Post

Open Letter Stamp

Dear Mr. Heimoff,

As the title of this letter subtly suggests, I’m writing you this letter in regards to your post today entitled This One’s Too Easy about the upcoming NextGen Wine Competition.

First, I would like to thank you for your kind words regarding the judging panel. I am one of the judges for the competition and I chose to accept that role because I strongly believe in the value of a competition like this. I disagree with much of what you wrote and I’d like to address a few of the points you made in your post today.

You wrote: “I mean, if there’s a Millennial wine competition, why not an Octagenarian wine competition? …” If the Octogenarian market was the fastest growing demographic in US wine consumption (as millennials are), there SHOULD be an Octogenarian wine competition. If US persons age 80-89 were considered “the largest consumer group in the history of the United States in terms of their buying power” (as millennials are), I would be in full support of this competition. And if Octogenarians were able to have such a huge impact on the global wine industry with ONLY THREE-QUARTERS of them legally allowed to consume wine at the moment (millennials again), I would set that competition up myself.

In regards to the futility of the competition, you wrote: “There are 70 million Millennials in this country. Surely, not all of them want the same thing.” There are millions of wine drinkers in this country, and surely not all of them want or like what Steve Heimoff or Robert Parker like – and yet, you do not find the occupation of wine critic useless.  You summarized: “So it might sound a little self-serving, but  I think the public’s interest is best served, if they want critical reviews, by sticking with trusted reviewers — regardless of their age or gender — who review everything in their regions.” I find it difficult to understand how a panel of 20 millennial wine pros tasting and grading wines is useless while at the same time  your own occupation as a wine critic is valid.

I don’t think this competition is an exercise in sales forecasting. I don’t think that what the judges say about these diverse wines will be reflected in national sales – how can it with the inequality of distribution, the 3-tier system, and state by state shipping laws?

I believe and hope that this competition will be very useful for the wine industry in recognizing patterns in taste among the panel of 20 or so judges within this valuable demographic. Through this experience, we may discover that the millennial judges all share certain likes or dislikes which can then be tested in the larger market, providing valuable data.

I accepted the role as a member of the judging panel because my hope is that the results will be very important to the wine industry and I am taking it very seriously.

Thank you for you time and I look forward to meeting you and continuing our conversation at the Wine Bloggers Conference this summer.



Thank you to reader and Massachusetts winemaker @IsaaksofSalem for the heads up.


The One Thing You Need To Know About Millennial Brand Ambassadors

I discuss the concept of millennial “brand ambassadors” and “brand evangelists” with businesses all the time. All. The. Time. It’s an important conversation to have – brand ambassadors/evangelists (in this conversation) are regular consumers that “preach” the good word of a particular brand to their friends and family through everyday life. Millennial brand ambassadors are particularly important because so much of our daily lives are spend on sites like facebook where our thoughts can reach thousands of people instantly. Especially for businesses looking to reach out to millennials, getting us talking about your product in a positive way in front of a thousand of our closest friends is key.

Here is my most frequently asked question: “Which brands are doing it right?” Or within the wine industry, “Which wineries are doing it right?”

It’s not that it’s a bad question. It’s incredibly relevant. And those of you who have asked me this lately, don’t think that I’m hating on you, because I’m not. You’ve just inspired me to figure out a better way to answer your question. But first…


Make your brand a valuable accessory.

The one thing you need to know about millennial brand ambassadors is: YOUR BRAND IS OUR SOCIAL ACCESSORY.

I don’t talk about your product on facebook because you deserve it, or because you worked really hard, or because you have a mortgage to pay or because you want a promotion. I talk about your product because it communicates something about me to people I want to impress/entertain/etc.

The brands that are “doing it right” are the best social accessories. The brands that say something about their millennial consumers. EXAMPLE: Tom’s Shoes – altruistic, socially conscious, environmentally friendly, and incredibly hip shoe company. When I talk about Tom’s Shoes (on facebook, on twitter, etc.) it says all of that ABOUT ME.

This is a very simple concept, but one that (at least) 90% of businesses reaching out to millennials today do not grasp. If you can keep this in mind while formulating your brilliant plan, it might just work. This is why we as millennials talk about businesses. If you want us to talk about your business, it better say something about us. It’s just how it works.

What does your brand say about your consumers? Think long and hard – and don’t just repeat what you say to your boss in meetings. What does it REALLY say? Because in order to have brand ambassadors, you must have a BRAND.

Get Serious About Mother’s Day, Wineries

Well, wineries, it’s that time of year again and the countdown is on. So what are you doing for Mother’s Day? ANOTHER wine and cheese event in the ol’ tasting room? How innovative. And for direct sales? Nothing yet, eh? Planning on slapping the words “Mother’s Day” on a regular bottle special and sending something out to your mailing list about a week before the big day? Hm. How’d that work out last year?

Mama Fratelli for Mother's Day

Mama Fratelli loves Mother's Day.

All of this snark is coming from a place of love, wineries. It’s time to get creative if you want to start making money off of these mini-holidays. Take some time to look at what you have planned and incorporate your own genius – or just use some of the ideas below.


If you’ve got a tasting room, I’m praying that you’re doing SOMETHING for the holiday. Instead of the wine and cheese event that everybody whips out when they don’t know what else to do, think a bit outside the box. What is going to make a family get in the car and head out to your tasting room? And how can you execute it on a budget? Some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Pamper ’em. Try hiring a masseuse for a few hours – have them set up a table and offer 15 minute mommy massages as a part of your event. You can also go nuts and offer manicures, but be sure to do so far enough away from the tasting room so that library Cab of yours doesn’t smell like Opi & nail polish remover.
  • Set up playtime for kids. Make it easy for families to attend by incorporating a supervised project for children as a part of the event. Mom and Dad can enjoy the tasting while Junior and Little Missy can create pictures, cork necklaces or the illustrious paper-plate bean-shakers that they can give to mom as a present when the tasting is over. Feel free to be creative and incorporate your branding into the project.
  • Take a hike. If your event is grown-ups only, and if you have the land, make it an adventurous escape. Set up a tasting in a romantic spot in the vineyard and give a guided tour to and from the tasting location. Make it special using your winery’s best features – do you have an amazing spot to view the sunset? On-site crush facilities? A little clearing in the woods or picnic tables in the vineyard? Use it. Feel free to make it a family event with extra supervision and an outside activity for the kids during the tasting.
  • Have a mom at the winery? Let the matriarch lead the tasting. Feel free to put family first – this can be your own celebration that you are inviting your valued customers to attend. If marketed right, there’s an element of “celebrity” that will appeal to some of your mailing list – just don’t let your heads get too big.
  • Look to the future. By the time you have your Mother’s Day event, know what you are doing for Father’s Day – or at least have an idea. If you can provide a wonderful and unique experience for Mom, odds are that Dad would be interested in coming back if you have something to offer him for his special day.  Depending on his or her situation, almost every guest at your event is a potential repeat for Father’s Day, so you best put it in their heads early.


Throwing your white wines in a three-pack and calling it a Mother’s Day special a week before the big day is not the way to take advantage of this holiday for your direct sales. Odds are that the consumers of your direct sale items for Mother’s Day may not be the same people that would attend your event (if you have one), so take advantage of this by creating a DIY Mother’s Day kit for home. All you need to do is to pick some themes and price ranges. Whatever you do, do it now. Get it up on your website immediately.

  • Understand your direct sales consumer. I’m going to assume that any Mother’s Day special/gift item will be up on your website (because it should be if you want to make money). Yes, you’ll be blasting this out to your mailing list and wine club, but understand that if you want to get new customers out of this, it will be people searching online for Mother’s Day wine gifts. Be sure that you use appropriate key words (for SEO) when you are creating the product pages and publish it asap. Also, the people doing online searches for mother’s day gifts may skew younger – hello millennials. Yes, there are plenty of us with kids, but there are TONS of us with mothers – we all need to buy them gifts and will most likely look to the web at some point, if not first. Keep this in mind when you are putting together your kits.
  • Know your competition. No, I’m not talking about neighboring wineries, people. The big competition on Mother’s Day is flowers. Think about this when you are choosing your pricing and marketing strategies. People won’t even blink at spending $100 and up on a beautiful bouquet of flowers for mom – it’s the ultimate go-to long-distance Mother’s Day gift. This is your competition. You can put together a fabulous package for this price (and lower) no matter what the price points of your wines are. Make sure people know this. Make sure that long distance sons and daughters realize that they have a choice between flowers and wine for Mom this year – and make sure they know why your wine package is the right choice.
  • Talk to the moms. If you’ve got moms on board in your staff, reach out to them to see what their ideal DIY Mother’s Day Kit would include.
  • Go outside your own merchandise. Yes, you could put together the same tired gift basket of wine, glasses and corkscrews, but that doesn’t give a whole lot of reasons to buy your particular package, does it? You’ve got a resale license, so USE IT! Grab a wholesale lot of manicure kits, spa slippers, DVDs, gift cards, decor items, etc. and incorporate these into your theme. If your budget is tight, shop first and create your theme around the items that fit your budget.
  • Don’t be afraid to go novelty. Remember these orders will be gifts, which means that people want to say something with them. Making people laugh is a big part of gift-giving, particularly in my family. Don’t be afraid to embrace a novelty approach. If I were a winery, the first Mother’s Day Gift item I would put together would be the Mama Fratelli Gift Basket. (If you don’t know who Mama Fratelli is, go watch Goonies immediately.) I would include a black beret and some fake pearls, as well as perhaps a CD single from the band, The Fratellis. If I had Italian varietals in my wines, I would include those in the basket (remember Zin = Primitivo), or if not, I would find the best wines that fit with her thematically. Find something unique, have fun, be creative.
  • Get the word out. If you do have some creative product packages for your direct sales, find a few ways to tell the world. Contact the local paper, radio shows, the local news – if it’s touching/unique/funny/creative enough, you may get some much needed coverage.

There are many more ways to get the most out of your event and direct sales this Mother’s Day, so grab your team, get thinking, and get put ingenious plans into motion soon to get the best return.

For those wineries that DO put the work in, I invite you to email me at with your new, improved, unique and creative plans/press releases/invites/product links, etc. and I will post as many of your Mother’s Day marketing ideas as I can (most likely the week before Mother’s Day, depending on the response). Be sure to include the links to purchase/attend so I can post them.  If your winery is putting in the work on this, I would love to support you.

Now get to work and go be a genius!

Fearless First, Then Leaders: Lesson for the Wine Industry

A little over a month ago, AdAge published an article* on 10 marketing ideas that changed the world – at least in their opinion.  From the 1984 Apple commercial to a certain iconic hosiery packaging, it’s fascinating to see these 10 ideas juxtaposed. For you marketing types, it’s incredibly inspiring. And for the rest of us, there’s an important common theme to notice among all of the companies mentioned. Each idea highlighted in the article resulted in catapulting its company to industry leader status, at times when these companies were only just fighting for their market share.

Apple's 1984 ad

Old meets new: an update to Apple's original 1984 ad.

As nonsensical as it sounds, it seems like that’s the state of wine companies today: everyone’s just competing. There’s no definitive leader. Sure there are the big guys. Sure there are the big brands. But do you see the wine equivalent to the iPhone anywhere? WHY NOT? The brass ring is just hanging there, people.

I highly recommend taking the 5 minutes to read the article. More than one of these campaigns has shaped a generation. While you read, take notice of the one thing (two things?) each of these companies had in common when they made these marketing choices: Balls.

I don’t mean to be crude, but it’s absolutely true. Some of these companies had everything to lose and they STILL made risky choices. AND THEY WORKED. It’s important to note that these Fearless Leaders were fearless BEFORE they were leaders.

There WILL be more underdog upsets in the coming years. There WILL be companies that chang their consumers’ worlds as well as their own industry landscape.

The real question is will wine be a part of it this time? A girl can only hope.

*UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that AdAge has archived this story in the last few days and it is now available only to AdAge subscribers. This is very disappointing. I am in no way supporting or recommending that readers should subscribe to their services through the original link used in this post. The updated link that I have provided will take you to a blog that has reposted the article in its entirety. Apologies for the inconvenience.

“Authenticity” & Pop Culture Marketing: Ur Doin it Wrong

ur doin it wrong

I’m convinced that when EVERY ARTICLE EVER WRITTEN ABOUT MARKETING TO MILLENNIALS talks about how millennials “crave” authenticity, it’s actually a failed attempt to explain bad marketing decisions.  Let me explain.

Now that wine seems to be approaching the point at which it will FINALLY (fingers crossed) start changing its marketing strategy, we all need to take a second to learn from other people’s mistakes (one of the only benefits to being so far behind the curve). In my opinion, there is one gigantic pitfall that I can see wine falling into – especially when reaching out to millennials. Pop Culture Marketing. It is so easy to fail when individuals who don’t pay attention or particularly care about pop culture decide that it’s a good idea to go for the Ol’ Pop Culture Marketing Campaign. In no way am I saying “don’t do it,” but I AM telling you, dear readers, that you must do it right.

Speaking of doing it right, please take five minutes to watch the following two videos. This is a Pedigree commercial that, to quote mashable, has “beguiled the internet.” A friend of mine shared it on facebook, I fell in love, and in turn, regurgitated it all over facebook (and now my blog).

And now take a look at the video below. It’s considered a short film using Vitalic’s Poney Part 1 directed by Pleix. This YouTube video with over 1 million hits was created a while ago. This YouTube file specifically was uploaded in 2006 and obviously has been viral for some time.

Now. Someone at Pedigree that saw that Vitalic/Pleix vid and said “This is awesome. This is dogs in slow motion. We sell dog food. We should do this.” Don’t you just want to find that person and shake their hand? I do. This is a great example of doing pop culture marketing RIGHT. Take something that’s out there and proven and APPROPRIATE for one’s business, tailor it to the business’s needs as simply as possible, and unleash it  (ha, get it?) on the masses.

Getting back to authenticity. There’s nothing particularly “authentic” about the Pedigree commercial. It’s a dog food commercial. But it’s smart, it’s done well, and it’s referencing something that is already a part of people’s lives without pretending to invent it.

I don’t think that we as a generation (millennials) expect advertisers or marketing campaigns to be authentic. We’re not insane. I would venture to say, however, that what people mistake for “authenticity in marketing” is actually respect for one’s audience. This means an understanding of your audience, knowledge of their likes, dislikes, trends and interests. This means ACTUALLY caring about what your audience cares about, not just finding something popular and creating a poor facsimile.  (Sorry people, your branded version of “Pants On The Ground” probably won’t work.) It seems to be tougher when companies try to market to millennials because the PIC (people in charge) usually are not millennials themselves and don’t put the effort in to understand their audience.

So, if you want to go for pop culture marketing – especially to millennials – make sure that you actually care about the same pop culture that we do. If you don’t, it’s understandable – just make sure you have someone on your team that DOES. Put the work in. Do the research. Take the time to understand your target demographic. Then have some fun.

Millennial Stereotypes: Totally True. Mostly.

As a busy millennial, I want to take a moment to address some stereotypes of my generation within the wine industry and beyond. Just fyi, I’m too busy multi-tasking, finding amazing internet videos, trolling hipster hate blogs, and designing my next tattoo to spend a whole lot of time on it. As a matter of fact, in the time it took to read that last sentence, I will have sent out 42 text messages without vowels to my closest friends. So let’s get to it.


This is true, but not because we don’t have the money.  The reason is because we’re too busy burning through our trust funds buying apple products, every bottle of wine that has ever been released with an animal on the label, and 2 Buck Chuck.


Kind of true. We do use it to follow twitter-integrated taco trucks and other novelty businesses as well as fake news sources. But we enjoy talking amongst ourselves IRL about how we “seriously don’t get twitter.”


Hang on, lemme finish sending this text.


Totally true. We can also smell your fear and tell you what you had for breakfast.


That’s a bingo – completely true. Our number one priority is getting wasted. Which is why we are the fastest growing demographic in wine consumption the US has ever seen. This is because in order to get blitzed on wine we need to buy like WAY more of it than a mature, refined wine enthusiast would – hence, we buy a lot.


There are countless more stereotypes to address, but I really have to get back to facebook. Before I do, though, I have to thank Hardy Wallace for his fab post on wine bloggers on Dirty South Wine that inspired this one.

Dear Wine Industry no. 3

Dear Wine Industry #3


Dear Wine Industry,

It shouldn’t be this hard to get people excited to buy wine. You’re not marketing a blanket with arms, here. IT’S WINE! One of the most celebrated “products” the world has ever seen. C’mon – wine is fun and delicous and exciting and sexy. Loosen up. Have some fun. See what happens.



Dear (U.S.) Wine Industry no. 2

Dear Wine Industry no. 1

Get in the Garage: Innovate by Embracing Limitations

Back in November of 2008 Wired magazine had a short but incredibly sweet article/essay on something they dubbed the “Garage Economy.” (Back to the Garage: How Economic Turmoil Breeds Innovation written by senior writer Daniel Roth – I highly recommend taking a look at it.)

In the article, Roth brings up an incredibly simple but overlooked point – tough economic times are the perfect breeding ground for fearless genius, but most industry leaders focus on cutting back rather than taking chances and moving forward.

In periods of economic turmoil, people are hungry and work cheap, and entrenched companies often concentrate on in-house cost-cutting instead of exploring new markets, which can explode with the next turn of the business cycle.

-Daniel Roth, “Back to the Garage…” Wired issue 16.12

For those that know me, my love affair with this concept is not surprising – it echoes one of my most firm beliefs: OUT OF STRUCTURE COMES GENIUS. Meaning that the more limitations one is given, the more creative that person must be to succeed. Structure forces us to take a look at what we want to accomplish, distill it down, take stock of all our resources, and find a more effective way to reach our goals. This “structure” can be anything from the number of hours in a day, budget limitations, non-traditional resources, or in this case, an international recession.

Welcome to Your New Office

Social media is a widespread example of this, both within the wine industry and beyond. Even as large companies cut back their advertising costs (sorry print & tv), they need brand awareness and sales more than ever. What’s the solution? Free social networks. Resources are re-directed to educate employees about social media (ideally, otherwise see this post), and instead of spending millions of dollars a year purchasing magazine ads, companies spend a fraction of that actually interacting directly with their target consumers. (One of the most incredible side effects of this is that the tiny 1200 case winery has the same chance of succeeding in this medium as the behemoth.) The question is, if all these companies weren’t being forced to cut back due to the economy, would they have made the same decisions to invest their energies in social media? Or would they have continued down the familiar path of traditional advertising?

Because of a seemingly perfect storm of economic restriction, there is a petri dish atmosphere for growing new ideas. For wineries, maybe it’s finding a way to boost direct sales when the Three-Tier System is failing them. Maybe it’s going out into the community and giving back and building a cult following. Maybe it’s forgoing glass bottles in favor of reusable metal containers/kegs for On-Site accounts. No matter what solutions companies come up with, it’s important to remember that these ideas are born out of structure and limitations. Companies that put their heads in the sand and ignore these conditions, or companies that are boarding up the windows to weather the storm, will never put themselves in the position of innovating.

Let’s admit it, the outlook is bleak when you maintain the status quo. Embrace all the limitations facing you – decrease in wine club membership, loss of a distributor, drooping sales, old-fashioned branding – gather them all up, find the smartest people you know, and GET IN THE GARAGE.