Home Wine Business Editorial People: Paul Mabray – Leading the Wine Industry into the Future

People: Paul Mabray – Leading the Wine Industry into the Future



There are people in the Wine Industry that don’t own vineyards or make wine, yet their impact on our business is indisputable. They are the people behind our winery associations, our media and our trade and they’re making a difference. “People” was created to acknowledge their role and celebrate their successes.

Writer: Jim Brumm
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Vintank’s Chief Strategy Officer Paul Mabray grew up in the heart of Napa Valley wine country. His mother was an assistant pathologist, and his father was an electronic engineer who would bring computers home and teach his eight-year-old son to program them. “That’s where I got my geek,” said Paul, “from my dad.”

Paul Mabray
Paul Mabray

As a boy Paul wanted to write and direct movies. After high school he studied film and English at San Francisco State University. During college, at just 23-years old, Paul became vice president of Napa Ale Works, helping with marketing. Paul laughed as he said, “They’d never seen a college kid doing percentage costs on a spreadsheet.”

Later, Paul found work at Niebaum Coppola Winery where he “tried to marry his acumen with his sales skills.” It was there, he said, that he found his passion for what he called “the insanity that is the wine business.”

Later, Paul went into business development with wineshopper.com, which merged with wine.com. “I quickly found that not only did I speak wine, I spoke geek. I loved the challenge of working in a system that was completely broken,” he said. “The wine industry was challenged because they were unable to ‘touch’ their customers every day. This was true with the wineries, the retailers and the distributors. I thought I could solve that problem.”

Paul took a leap of faith and founded Inertia Beverage Group (IBG) in 2002. Surviving on Top Ramon, he worked diligently and managed through verve, passion, drive, and a great product, to attract the attention of investors. Eventually, he was able to raise 15.6 million dollars, and Inertia Beverage Group became the first successful ecommerce platform for the wine industry. For the first time a company had bridged the gap between wineries and their customers. Paul served as IBG’s CEO for seven years and developed a reputation for the ability to successfully grasp the leading edge of technology as it applies to the wine industry. Paul Mabray not only thinks outside of the box, he throws the box away.

At IBG, Paul’s leadership resulted in the creation of several innovative products intended to help the wine industry sell and communicate directly to consumers and suppliers. IBG Programs such as Direct to Trade, ReThink Compliance, Brix Open Source CMS, Marketplace Enablement, and others helped many re-envision their marketing strategies.

“I’m a good start-up guy,” said Paul. “Being a good start-up CEO means becoming involved with a lot of managed chaos.”

Today, Paul is Chief Strategy Officer at his latest venture, Vintank. Based in Napa, California, Vintank is, as Paul put it, “. . . meant to be a beacon,—a digital think tank for the wine industry.” Clients include France—(that’s right, the whole country)—the Rioja region of Spain, and Opus One, among many others. Initially, Vintank worked with Cruvee, a social network company, turning them into a listing service. Nine months ago, Vintank acquired Cruvee and merged the companies.

Vintank uses Social Connect, a social media monitoring tool that allows wineries to tap into literally millions of online conversations in order to learn who is talking about their wines, and what they’re saying. Using this software, winery owners can monitor the daily pulse of the real world of wine consumers. With advanced algorithms that recognize key words—and specific language often used to discuss and describe wines—Social Connect can give wineries a broad overview of customer opinions and desires, as well as specific points that relate directly to their own products.

Social Connect monitors popular social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Foursquare, as well as myriad other sites devoted specifically to wine, such as wine blogs, discussion boards, and online journals. Vintank monitors millions of online conversations, and provides valuable information to thousands of wineries. Currently Vintank has nearly 3000 wineries employing their software to help with their marketing efforts.

And best of all? The software is free.

“We followed the legacy of Robert Mondavi and the early days of the Napa Valley wine industry,” said Paul. “It’s the culture of sharing, which is unprecedented in the wine business. Today, evolution in the wine industry is happening faster than people think. The competition is getting harder. American wine consumers are promiscuous by nature. How does a wine business scale customer service and message delivery? To me, that can only be done digitally. For the first time in history wineries can see consumers they’ve never seen before. If someone mentions that they tried a particular wine, no matter where they bought it, now the winery can communicate directly back to them. One-on-one experiences with customers are no longer limited to tasting room visits. Wineries can literally converse with customers who have tried their wines and are talking about them across social media.”

Social Connect measures around one million wine conversations every day. And every day wineries using the software receive an email telling them when those conversations mention them or their products. The links provided in the emails connect directly back into those original conversations, enabling the wineries to join the discussion with their customers. Welcome to the future.

“We live in a Google economy,” said Paul. “It’s evolve or die.” It’s a digital world; if you don’t have a digital presence you will be left behind.”

Paul Mabray is a two-time American Wine Blog Awards finalist. He has been a guest lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, UC Davis, and at many symposiums and conventions. He is globally recognized for his innovative leadership throughout the wine industry. To have a conversation with him is to part the curtain and get a glimpse of the future. Speaking quickly, his unbounded enthusiasm for the wine industry melding with the digital world comes through in spades. Through his eyes, it all makes sense. One can envision the future of the industry and understand that although the wine world is changing at an unprecedented speed, there are some who can see where it’s going long before it gets there. Paul Mabray will show us the way.


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  1. Paul is a leading voice of reason for the wineries when it comes to all things related to digital marketing. I’m always surprised at the lack of awareness the wineries exhibit when it comes to moving forward with “new marketing” initiatives; they’d rather spend a million dollars on landscaping than $100 on adwords.


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