Lessons Learned at A Wine & Food Affair

I spent this past weekend in Sonoma, California attending A Wine & Food Affair. During the makeshift family reunion for my oenophile bunch of relatives, we covered about 20 wineries, tasting wines and an appetizer-sized dish from each. I highly recommend it if you are ever in the area. Being that my focus is public relations, I kept an eye (albeit a tad tipsy at times) on how each winery approached it.

Here are a couple things I picked up along the way, from the guest’s point of view. Some may seem a bit obvious to some of you. But it was enlightening to experience how a winery treats guests, and in turn, how it affected me. Here goes…

1. Social media matters: “It’s 2011 Dawn, who doesn’t care about social media at this point?” Oh you savvy bunch. But I was actually surprised how prevalent it really is. I hadn’t expected it from smaller wineries. Yet, upon some quick research on Twitter and Facebook, I came to find that even some small places are well-established in the social media scene.

I noticed some larger wineries placing their Twitter handles and Facebook addresses at the forefront, in font as large as the name of the place itself.

Dwindling are the days of relying on visitors to provide their email addresses in a guestbook for one-sided communication. Wineries are fully embracing social media.

2. Authenticity matters: This wine festival is illuminating because an array of wineries participate: big, small, commercial, family-owned. One thing I immediately noticed about each winery was how exactly its product was presented.  How available was the owner/winemaker? Or was it just some anonymous staff person silently pouring? As a potential customer, I really appreciated the wineries that had the winemaker at the door, greeting guests, able to answer specific questions about the process of bringing their product to the bottle.

It wasn’t a nameless, faceless product anymore, it was one that was made by someone who cared enough to come talk to me about it. Now that was impressive.

3. Personality counts too: One critical factor that I found determined how I walked away feeling about a winery was yes, the wine, but also the personality. Some of these guys really knew how to engage the visitor. There were the sons at Battaglini who joked and made you feel like part of the family. There was Bob at Carol Shelton Winery whose energy made each guest excited to be there.

There was the hilarious owner at Holdredge whom, upon my request to describe some wines for me, he eloquently stated: “Zinfandel is like Pamela Anderson in a tight leather jacket, like ‘here I am’.” If that kind of description doesn’t make you want to buy wine, I don’t know what will.

And it pays off for the winemaker. I found that some in our group were as likely to buy from someone who stood out, as likely as we were to buy a product that stood out.

4. Smart wineries cater to the customer: This one is kind of similar to the last two. But I have two wineries in mind, on opposite sides of the spectrum. One being a small winery, Frick, located near the house my family stayed in. My family was impressed by the uniqueness and quality of the Frick wines we tasted last year. My father had emailed the owner before our trip and he actually opened up shop on a normally closed day, for a special tasting for us.

On the other side of the spectrum is director Francis Ford Coppola’s winery. Hey, I loved The Godfather just as much as the next Chianti-sipping, Marinara-slurping girl. But his winery… it was suggested by one family member but quickly shot down by groans, the consensus being that it’s “the Disneyland of wineries.” At Coppola, I don’t think they’re jumping to make it a personal experience for you… unless you come to him on the day of his daughter’s wedding, that is.

5. Wineries know their audience: I spoke to one of the owners of Hart’s Desire winery, and he told me that even their wine labels are designed to be pleasing to the eye of their target audience. He’s used the work of a female artist who created images of women for the wine labels. Why? Because women account for the majority of wine sales in the U.S. According to owner John Hart, their rationale is based on the process of a product appealing “From eye, to heart, to hand.”


Correction: A Wine & Food Affair takes place in Northern Sonoma County, not the town of Sonoma.

Thanks, William Allen! (http://www.simplehedonisms.com/)

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9 thoughts on “Lessons Learned at A Wine & Food Affair

  1. The Frick winery has an impressive Facebook presence and GORGEOUS photographs. (You might want to change your last #3 to #5. :-))

    Nice post! Thanks!

    • dnoufer says:

      My family and I love Frick, and Bill himself! I noticed it has a great social media presence. I’m loving your blog, by the way. If you ever want to pass some tips to a newbie wine blogger (and graduating PR student) I’d welcome it!
      p.s. Thanks saving me on the numerical faux pas. I mentioned I’m a newbie, right?

  2. Nice write up… yeah, John Holdredge is quite the character. I had the fortune (insanity?) of working with him for harvest last year. Just a great time and really knows how to tell a story and is super passion about what he does. How did you like the 2010’s btw?

  3. As a resident transplant, avid writer/blogger (2.5 years) and advocate for the region, glad you enjoyed yourself.

    For readers clarification, this was NORTH Sonoma County, not the Town of Sonoma, which is an hour south, The event is hosted each year by the Wine Road (www.wineroad.com) which represents the 3 Northern AVAs (regions) of the county – Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley.

    The Wine Road organization itself is one of the most progressive in Social Media I have ever worked with.

    You did a great job finding some gems (Frick is always one I share.) An event weekend, is not usually a great opportunity for quality time, especially in Healdsburg and Dry Creek on a Sat, when popular/central located wineries like Amista saw 800 people that day!

    I will add on to your comment about wineries of all sizes large, commercial etc – not that there is anything bad about large wineries, but this region is characterized by its small, artisan and family nature. North Sonoma actually has very few large production, commercial wineries. Most are <20k cases a year, and in fact many, many are under 2k cases a year.

    You nailed it on authenticity and personality. One of my Tweets was something like "Marketing note to wineries: a winery with great wines and so so hospitality will often be outsold by one with the reverse."
    With almost 200 wineries now in a 30 mile radius on the Wine Road, hospitality and service are as key as the wines.
    Wine is much more than a beverage, its a lifestyle experience, and the experience at the winery lingers longer than than the memory of how the wine tasted.


    • dnoufer says:

      Thanks for the clarification, I guess I needed a geography lesson! You’re right, it was quite the bustling weekend. I’d love to make it down there some time when it’s not infiltrated by the crowds, but it is a fantastic event!
      You hit the nail on the head… I was thinking about writing a post about the “wine lifestyle experience” you described. I’m enjoying poking around on your blog. Any posts you can direct me to that discuss the “wine lifestyle”? I’d love to gain some of your insight, and refer to it in a possible future blog post.

      Thanks for all of your information!

      • Its a pretty common mixup 🙂 At least you didn’t confuse Napa with Sonoma which happens more than I care to admit I see!

        I am out the door to a wine event in Paso Robles, will dig out some articles for you.
        Sadly, since I have had started my own label, creative writing/articles are few these last months, mostly wine reviews and event updates, but I sneak in what pearls I can.

        cheers and more to come – thanks for visiting and writing about our county! 🙂

  4. Hi Dawn,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences from Sonoma County and highlighting some of your favourite wineries. You included some great takeaways and examples, which made for an entertaining read! I completely agree with your points on authenticity and personality. Your post demonstrated a lot of both 🙂 Thanks again!

    Zoe Geddes-Soltess
    Community Engagement, Radian6

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